Joshua Clifford’s journey through UGA has run the gamut from Redcoat Marching Band drum major to IMPACT site leader to Visitors Center tour guide and will culminate as this spring’s student Commencement speaker.
Camden County High School
Tour leader at the UGA Visitors Center, undergraduate assistant at the Community Mapping Lab
Family ties to UGA:
I’m the first to attend the University of Georgia, but trust me I have the whole family in red and black now!
Geography (B.S.), Geography (A.B.), Comparative Literature (A.B.)
Certificate in Geographic Information Science
University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
The opportunities and experiences afforded to my by this university have been integral parts of my growth, development and understanding of the world these past few years. I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate to have been able to take part in so many different organizations and academic activities as a student here.
Because of the Redcoat Marching Band I was able to find community within UGA before classes even started my freshman year. I’ll never forget my first day of band camp when I met the 40 other members of the clarinet section. I was so nervous about entering college, but this section and this band embraced me and gave me such a great support network within the first day of me being there. It was in those final hours of that first day of band camp, throwing the Frisbee and eating ice cream on Herty Field with the clarinets, when I realized I had truly found home away from home. I’m pretty sure I even have a cheesy Instagram post from 2015 that features the same sentiments. Fast forward three years and I have had the absolute honor of being a rank leader, section leader, and now drum major for the Redcoat Band. Not only have I been able to both play and conduct the songs of the Bulldog Nation (pretty sure I peaked when I conducted Krypton for my first Light up Sanford). I have been able to do so surrounded by the friends that I can without a doubt say will be with me for the rest of my life.
My good pal and fellow clarinet player, Abby, is the first person who told me about IMPACT Service Breaks. As a freshman I really just wanted to go home for my spring break, but she urged me to participate in a service-learning experience instead. That year I went to Jackson, Mississippi, over spring break and did 40 hours of service related to disability awareness and advocacy. This one week changed my entire view of social justice, the world around us, and what the power of intentional service and active citizenship can do for a community. I knew that I had to continue with this program. My sophomore year I had the time of my life being a site leader for IMPACT alongside my co-site leader, Kathryn. We spent the entire year planning a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, with the focus of environmental justice. These past two years I have served IMPACT on its Executive Board as the outreach coordinator. I have spent my junior and senior years spreading the word about IMPACT, service, social justice and active citizenship — all in the hopes that as many students as possible could recognize the potential they have to make positive change in their community. I am also proud to say that IMPACT was awarded the SOAR Award for Organization of the Year in the 2017-2018 academic year.
It was actually another friend of mine from IMPACT, Liana, who told me I should apply to work at the UGA Visitors Center. What I thought would just be a fairly cool job turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. For the past three years I have been a tour leader for UGA. I have been able to greet hundreds of visiting parents and prospective students from all over the world during my employment. I never thought that meeting 60 strangers would become the hi-light of my day, but here we are. Everyone told me that the VC was the “happiest place on campus,” and I am here to say that it 100% is. I can’t even call the people I work with co-workers, because that does not do justice to the close-knit relationships I have been able to form with them. Best friends, family…all of the above! The environment and culture of the Visitors Center is so great because of the outstanding leadership and compassion of our bosses. EJ, Natalie and Terri — y’all are the life and love of the VC, and it would not be near what it is today without you.
Last year I was so fortunate to be inducted into Gamma Theta Upsilon, which is the International Geographical Honor Society. I was also a recipient of the 2018 Geography Department Alumni Award. The School of Music last year also awarded me the Roger Dancz Alumni Scholarship.
Finally, I am excited and incredibly honored to be the student Commencement speaker at the spring graduation ceremony. I truly hope to send a message that all of my fellow graduates can take with them as we all finally leave through the Arch come May.
If I had to say anything about my opportunities and achievements at UGA, it’s that all of them would not have been possible without the amazing faculty and friends this place has provided me. The real achievement at UGA is the relationships I’ve been able to form. Investing in people will always lead to the kind of success that matters.
I chose to attend UGA because …
I get asked this question all the time while I am giving tours, and it’s kind of ironic that I myself never went on a tour of UGA. I maybe didn’t do quite as much research as I should have, but thankfully things worked out better than I could have imagined!
I knew I wanted two things from my college: a huge marching band experience, and a multitude of academic options.
I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life in high school, so I wanted a college that would embrace that and help foster a more defined path for me. UGA and its advisors have been with me through all three major changes, an added major, and an added certificate, so I was definitely covered and looked out for!
My favorite things to do on campus are …
I love the fact that downtown Athens is right across the street from North Campus, because I am always grabbing coffee from Walker’s or, more recently, Bubble Tea from Bubble Cafe. I love doing this with friends in between classes and finding a nice spot on campus to sit and catch up.
When I’m not enjoying the outside campus vibes of UGA, I am almost always catching up with people in the Center for Leadership and Service. This is where the IMPACT office is. There are always people here, and I have had so many incredible moments and conversations with the friends I have in IMPACT and in other CLS organizations. Three of my absolute favorite humans ever are also in the CLS: my advisors! I am so blessed to have been given three incredible IMPACT advisors who have fostered my growth as a student and leader during my time at UGA. Melvin, Sarayfah and Amanda — y’all are awesome and I will never not bother you while you’re trying to do work.
This is probably really weird, but I also love riding the UGA buses. I have parked in the Intramural Fields for three years now, and let me tell you the bus ride into campus I have every morning is one of my favorite parts of the day. I’m really into reading (follow me on Goodreads!) and I love starting my day off by reading a chapter of a book on my way into campus each day.
When I have free time, I like …
Free time hasn’t been the most prevalent during my time as a student, but when it does come around I always try to spend it with my roommates.
I met my freshman roommate, Jack, on the DawgHouse (match.com but for UGA roommates) and we have been living together ever since! After Jack came his best friend from high school, Nathan, and my best friend from high school, Brooke, and the four of us lived together for two years! When Brooke moved out to thrive in New York City, my final roommate that I’ll have at UGA, Bender, moved in, and he has been the most caring person to live with.
My roommates have been my absolute rock for these past four years. No matter what I was going through, or how stressed out I was about something, they were always there for me.
Together we watch “Game of Thrones,” grill out, talk about life and literature, and overall just support each other as bet as we can.
The craziest thing I’ve done is …
Being on the UGA Homecoming Court this past year was an absolute dream, but being on it with my childhood best friend was the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me.
Brooke and I were first-grade best friends, and we have lived, learned and grown together ever since. When we both found out that we would be on Homecoming Court we were beyond excited. I said three words on the phone to tell her before Brooke started screaming. Homecoming and the weeks leading up to it were filled with love and support not just from our friends at UGA, but from all of our family and friends back home in Camden County, Georgia. Homecoming itself was made so much more exciting because both of our families drove up to celebrate us. I got to watch Brooke escort her Dad onto the field during the Homecoming game as I escorted my Mom. It was without a doubt the most magical evening of my life.
My favorite place to study is …
… the Main Library. Hands down. What’s not to love about it? You have a coffee shop and collaborative space on the first floor. The seventh floor has the best view of South Campus you’ll ever see, and the fourth floor has whiteboards and chalkboards as walls!
My favorite study session in the library was with my best geography friend, Mary Everett. We were studying for our geomorphology final and spent 10 hours on that fourth floor of the library. Around hour seven, we were fairly delusional when we heard a bell start ringing. To our great surprise, a team of librarians ran in with a coffee cart saying, “Finals coffee hour! Come get some free coffee!” Truly a blessing.
That’s the other great part about the library: the librarians! Not only is the library filled with great study spaces, but they have an entire staff of librarians dedicated to helping students with anything they need. Huge shout-out to y’all — you make this campus a better place every day.
My favorite professor is …
There is no way I could narrow it down to just one, so here we go.
In the comparative literature department, Dr. Cerbu, Vlad Jecan, Dr. O’Neill, and Dr. Lieberman have been absolute standouts. I have had two classes with Dr. O’Neill (“The Black and Green Atlantic” and “Postcolonial Literature”), and his dedication to his students is unmatched. His classes are filled with enlightening conversation and incredible course readings. If ever any student is having an issue, Dr. O’Neill will do his very best to help. I have to shout out Dr. Lieberman as well. He is also my comp. lit. advisor and is the reason I am a comparative literature major today.
In the geography department I have had so many professors who have given me unlimited inspiration for the field I will be entering. Dr. Kurtz taught my favorite class, “Intro to Urban Geography.” She teaches her students what it means to be a college student at UGA in the context of also being a citizen in the Athens community. Dr. Kurtz is the first to have opened my eyes to many of the real issues faced in today’s major cities and suburbs. This class was the coolest! I was fortunate to have Dr. Barkan for “Advanced Urban Geography.” This focused on the role that cities play in film, and this taught me some of my most valuable analytical skills. Dr. Barkan is kind and always willing to offer a helping hand if a student was ever struggling.
Dr. Sarmiento is the King of Geography. I have had two classes with him, and both have been a wonderful experience. Dr. S places great importance on making meaningful relationships with his students. He is one of the most passionate professors I have ever met, and it shows in every single one of his classes. Dr. S will ask you what you want to do with your life, and he will do everything in his power to point you in the right direction.
Dr. Jerry Shannon is probably the professor who has had the most impact on my academic career. My first geography class was Dr. Shannon’s “Introduction to Geographic Information Systems.” It is this class that confirmed for me that GIS was the field I wanted to go into. I was able to take his other class, “Community GIS,” which gave me incredible insight as to how I can apply GIS to help communities and foster successful community partnerships. After these two classes I was able to work as an administrative assistant in his lab, the Community Mapping Lab. This past year I was able to participate in actual research with this lab with the CURO program and with Dr. Shannon as my mentor. This was one of the best opportunities I have had here. Overall, Dr. Shannon has taught me so much and is still the reason today I know I am entering the field where I belong.
I also have to give a huge mention to my band directors and TAs. Brett, D Rob and Rob, y’all make Redcoats as great as it is. We can’t thank you enough for that.
If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …
… George R.R. Martin, author of “A Song of Ice and Fire.” I read every single “Game of Thrones” book my senior year of high school, and then watched the whole series afterward.
I have always been a huge nerd when it comes to fantasy books, and “Game of Thrones” has made no exception to that. I would love to spend an afternoon with Martin to talk about how he builds these massive worlds on paper, and about his writing processes and inspirations. I would also ask him how this series is going to end!
If I knew I could not fail, I would …
… write a book! It has been a lifelong dream of mine to write a work of fiction. I had the time of my life last semester taking an “Intro to Creative Writing” course with my best friend, Victoria. We had the best time writing original stories for the entire semester. It’s actually very common for us to call each other and bounce ideas around for what we would write about together — so who knows, maybe a co-authored book is in the works!
If money was not a consideration, I would love to …
This really is becoming a thread, but I would love to open up and run a library. I have always loved going into bookstores, libraries and peering through the windows of Little Free Libraries around my community. After interning at the Library of Congress last summer, I was really inspired by the outreach initiatives of the office I worked for, The Center for the Book, and of the Librarian of Congress herself, Carla Hayden. The gift of reading has been an integral part of my life; one that I have my parents, grand parents, and book obsessed cousin to thank for. There isn’t as adequate enough access to literacy, books, and reading as there should be, so if I could just turn around and build a library whose mission was to combat this, I would in a heart beat.
What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?
My passion, very much cultivated by UGA, is providing opportunities to individuals and communities for them to succeed and be uplifted. The Center for Leadership and Service has taught me that everyone’s story and privileges are different, and that how we use our own story and privilege to help the lives of others is so very important in our day-to-day lives. UGA has taught me that not only is this ideal, it’s also very possible.
Wherever I end up in life, and whatever company I end up working for, I will strive to be intentional and uplifting in all that I do. I am committed to investing in others and to causes that help to make our community and world a better place.
After graduation, I plan to …
I will be moving to Portland, Maine, to intern for Esri, a GIS map making software company! I have worked with Esri products all throughout my college career, so it is a dream that I get to work with them the summer right after my graduation.
The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …
Every Redcoat knows what’s coming.
In 2017 the entire 430-plus member Redcoat Band was flown to Pasadena, California, for the Rose Bowl! This entire trip was absolutely incredible, but the day of the game itself is a day that will forever be in my memory. We woke up around 5 a.m. to line up to march in the Parade of Roses! This was the coolest band experience I have probably ever been a part of. Here we are on the opposite coast of Georgia, and the entire 5-mile stretch of the parade is surrounded by Dawg Fans! It was wild.
After the parade we got to attend the best live sporting event I will ever witness. My heart rate during this game was … concerning, however the absolute thrill of watching Sony Michel rush into the end zone right next to band, scoring the winning touch down in double overtime, was literally life changing. I had no voice the next morning because of the hundred times I shouted “I said it’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog” that night. I watched my favorite team win with my favorite band, standing next to my best friends. You know what. Maybe I did peak in college.