Alumni Spotlight: Terry Clayton's Odyssey

Alumni Spotlight: Terry Clayton

Alumnus Terry Clayton is the an author and teacher who excelled at athletics and student leadership. His book Facing the Moment: Lessons from a Global Odyssey is about his observations after forty years of teaching and exploring. 

What is your current project?

I have been actively promoting my new book, Facing the Moment: Lessons from A Global Odyssey (with Fairhaven alumna Elizabeth Harris). I also write a monthly blog, letters to the editor of local papers, and am involved in environmental issues on Whidbey Island where I live. In the fall, l will be teaching a two-quarter class using my book as the text. I also give talks on cultural evolution and the dynamics of social change.

What experiences at Western helped prepare you? 

My four years at Western were among the best of my life. At that time I thought I was mostly working, but in hindsight, it was mostly play. I had attended the UW in my freshman year but felt overwhelmed. I received an athletic scholarship from Western, where I thrived. I made the Dean’s List, I was on the WWU basketball team the first time we went to Nationals (now the NCAA, Division 2) and I was a Senator in student government. I majored in history and subsequently spent 40 years teaching at the high school and college level. My most cherished possession is my WWU ring which I still wear all these years later.

Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out in your mind about your Western experience?

Studying for exams with friends; dressing up for finals (sports coat, tie, Stetson hat, and slacks) an act of eccentric self-expression; and beating Pacific Lutheran College (now PLU) for district basketball championship, which sent us to the national tournament in Kansas City.

Did you have a favorite professor or other WWU employee who made a significant impact on your life or time here? Any favorite professors or experiences you’d like to share? A favorite course or thing you learned in a course?

I enjoyed most classes but especially enjoyed all of my history classes. Keith Murray was my favorite teacher.  Dean Mac (Bill McDonald), the Dean of Students at that time, was beloved by most students. Because he was a star athlete as well as an accomplished academic, he was a special mentor to me, particularly for helping me find a balance between sports and academics. It pleases me that the City of Bellingham has named an avenue after him. My favorite classes were the required introductory history classes (101, 102, 103), taught by Prof. Murray. The classes provided me with an overview, and inspired me to want more. The most challenging class I took was an intro to physical science, taught by Dr. Besserman. I studied countless hours with Tony, a  student who sat next to me in class and who ended up being my best friend from Western and remained one of my best friends until he passed away a couple of years ago.  Adieu, Tony.

What is your favorite career achievement?

I started a high school organization—Student Action For the Environment (SAFE)—that was the first non-adult group to write and lobby legislation that ultimately passed into state law. It was the first of its kind in the US and was recognized by Senator Patty Murray and won an award from well-known journalist and news anchor, Dan Rather.

What kinds of hobbies do you have? What do you do in your free time? 

Collecting countries— and friends. I have been to over 150 countries so far. In my free time I study, write, spend time with my family, actively tend to my health and organize for social and political action.

Do you have any advice for current students?

Live in the present, cherish the past and plan for the future. Do the best you can with the talent you were given to make this planet a better place. When you get old and acquire perspective living your life, write a book. It is the best gift you can leave your family. And hopefully, someday, it will help others make some sense of the world they’re living in.