Unsung heroes: Earnest Harper
Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a series of profiles on GC staff members whose contributions are not often recognized as publicly as others.
For GC shuttle bus driver Earnest Harper, his job at GC involves more than just taking students from main campus to West Campus and back again. He acknowledges that to some, the idea of driving the same circuit over and over again may sound unrewarding, but he finds it anything but dull.
“Each time new people get on the bus, it’s like a refresh on a computer,” Harper said. “New people getting on, with different things going on in their life, and maybe there is something I can do to cheer them up.”
Harper said he believes that the students he drives should be happier when they get off the bus than when they got on. He makes sure to greet every passenger with a smile when they board, giving them a wave and a cheery “Thank you!” when they get off.
When he sees a passenger looking sad, he’ll ask what’s wrong and if he can do anything to help, which he usually gives in the form of advice.
“You never know what’s going on in other people’s lives, so I ask them what’s wrong and see if there is anything I can help with,” Harper said. “One time a girl got on my bus looking sad and when I asked what was wrong, she said she had a presentation, and she was really scared. I told her to do what you do and don’t look any of them directly in the eyes, and later that day she got back on the bus and told me my pointers really helped out.”
Harper’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by the students he serves.
On Jan. 30, at the men’s basketball game versus Georgia Southwestern, Harper and other GC staff chosen by senior athletes were recognized during the halftime for their service and the effect they have on those around them.
Harper stood with Shawnda Martin, a senior on GC’s softball team. Shawnda met Harper during her sophomore year while he was driving the team to an away game.
“I walk to the bus, and there was gospel music playing, and there he was smiling at everyone,” Martin said. “I could tell right then that we were going to be friends.”
Martin and Harper’s friendship took off during their conversations at the team’s nightly dinners on the road.
“The whole bus would eat dinners together on the way back from games, and that is where I really got to know him,” Martin said. “After that, whenever we would see each other, whether it was on the bus or just somewhere on campus, he would always say ‘hi’ to me.
When Martin had shoulder surgery, she said Harper would make a point to ask how she was recovering whenever he saw her.
“It was really sweet and would make my day because he took the time to remember specific details about me,” Martin said.
Harper tries to do this with every team he drives to games or tournaments. Last year he took the GC women’s Ultimate team to nationals last year in Kentucky, and that team also appreciated the spirit he brings to his role.
Meredith Collier, a sophomore on the Ultimate team, says that she would not have chosen anyone else after the trip.
“He was randomly assigned to us by the school, but he was fantastic,” Collier said. “He was really kind and funny and just super fun to be around. He also came to all of our games and cheered us on, which meant a lot to me.”
GC athlete Meredith Collier selected Harper to be recognized on Jan. 31.
Outside of work, Harper enjoys reading and is drawn to books that help teach people how to live and to be a better person. Once he’s read a book, he gives it away so it can help another person. “Brown Girl Dreaming” is one of his favorites.
He is very involved in Jones Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where he teaches Bible study and acts as the treasurer. He and a group of church friends have adopted the phrase “man up” as their motto.
To Harper, the phrase means that he should strive to improve in every facet of life, whether that is being a father, friend or husband.
“Those are the words I try to live my life by,” he said.
That willingness to meet any challenge has influenced how he approaches every aspect of his life, including his work. He even compares his job to NASCAR.
“NASCAR drivers go around in a circle five hundred times and every time is a journey,” Harper said. “The same is true with me and my job. I don’t get bored of it because every lap is a journey, and I’m an adventurer at heart.”