“CBU has been the north star for me in terms of what to do inside and outside the classroom, in terms of what I can contribute to society.”

Austin Brown’s journey isn’t what he expected. He’s had a law career in his sights for a long time, but the route took some turns that shook up his original plan. Initially not on his radar, CBU came through with some significant scholarships and is making his dreams come true. “I gave it a chance because they gave me the chance.”

As part of the Advancement team in his last semester, Austin has had the opportunity to thank several who make coming here possible for him and so many other students. In talking to a number of alumni and donors, “I just tell them a big thank you,” he says. “Knowing that a donor is spending their time and their money to make my experience both on and off campus better just warms my heart. They don’t have to do that. It makes me realize:  this is why I’m at CBU.” And he invites them to share their stories, too – soaking up the school pride and the vast breadth of experiences alumni have to share, still learning about the campus and CBU’s culture and “what it means to be a Buc.”

… what it means to be a Buc.

Austin smiles as he recounts the opportunities he’s had here. Having interned at Memphis Area Legal Services, Holland Associates, Memphis Fair Housing Center, and the Shelby County DA’s office, he says, “I’ve been able to do a lot of things, and they’ve all helped me grow and develop into the person I want to be, into someone who can contribute to society later on and do the things I want to do. I’m really fortunate.”

He’s been more than fortunate, though. Denzel Washington said, “Luck is when an opportunity comes along and you’re prepared for it.” Austin has prepared himself. Through the transition from high school to college and an uptick in rigor, his professors were always there with an encouraging “You can do this!” He discovered his niche, discovered his gifts: “The biggest way I’ve changed? Being able to navigate the waters of what’s important, what’s not important, what I should involve myself in, what I shouldn’t involve myself in, and exactly how I should use my abilities to help people.”

In fact, Austin has helped a lot of people. In his four and a half years here, he has chosen to give his time to roles that focus on servant leadership: a freshman SGA senator, participant in the reEnvision Program, NICE intern, peer mentor, Orientation Guide, President’s Ambassador, intern in the Advancement Office – a “cascade of involvement” he calls it.  

And in this involvement, he has looked for ways to encourage others and make CBU better. Sometimes that has meant giving advice to struggling students and helping them connect on campus; sometimes it has meant prompting stories of the past from alumni and donors. These roles taught Austin “what it means to be a servant leader, not just a Me-Me-Me Leader. There’s no I in team. CBU really wants to develop, not just scholars, but people who will give back to the community.”  

I need Memphis.

This idea of community sparks his enthusiasm about his hometown of Memphis and the way CBU supports the city by instilling a love of the area in his classmates. “I know so many people that are from somewhere else but then graduate and say, ‘I have to stay here. I have to find a job here. I don’t think any other university in Memphis has the same effect of getting people to stay in this community, a community that really needs it. I need Memphis.”

His involvement and mentoring have been great practice for the corporate law and community service – and maybe even politics – he hopes to work in. Bit by the political bug, Austin says, “There’s theater to it, but what happens in the halls of power really does affect us. I’d like to get in there and make good change, stir up a little good trouble.”

CBU Student Austin Brown in front of Rosa Deal School of Arts

Good trouble? An oxymoron maybe. But an oxymoron is built on balance, and Austin has learned about balance. He has learned how much time and effort some organizations require and the effect that requirement can have on schoolwork and a student’s campus experience. “But,” he smiles, “once you find that balance, once you find your niche and when you understand your abilities and where your time should be spent and where you can contribute, not only to yourself but also to the campus, then that’s where you really find your sweet spot.” There is confidence in his experience, wisdom in life’s lessons that spills from Austin. He explains, “What I’ve learned is saying ‘Yes’ to what really matters and that will contribute – not just doing things that will make me happy in the short run or give me satisfaction right away but noticing and really picturing the long game – that’s what has helped me understand what it means to be at CBU and understand what it means to ‘Enter to Learn and Leave to Serve.’”

In December 2021, Austin will do just that. With a degree in History and a solid legal resume, not to mention wisdom to share and deep appreciation for his university home, he will go into the world ready. Ready for the unexpected twists and turns of life. Ready to pay forward the favors of so many professors and staff who reached out to him in tough times. Ready to invest in Memphis. Ready to serve. Ready to follow his star.

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