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Student Thomas Bardroff poses for a photo.“If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” This African proverb is how student Thomas Bardroff began his speech at the annual Scholarship Dinner. Aptly, several of his classmates stood on the stage with him as he spoke.

The quote reflects how Thomas feels about Sandhills. “There’s an overwhelming sense of belonging. Some days are tougher than others with tests and due dates, but I’ve never had a day that I felt like SCC was the wrong choice for me. All my friends and teachers have made it an amazing place and helped me felt like I fit in.” Thomas is studying Landscape Gardening and slated to graduate in 2020. He’s also a work-study student in the program.

“Mrs. Blevins and Mr. and Mrs. Westmen are the best teachers I’ve ever had. They’re all ready at a moment’s notice to help and make sure you have everything needed to be successful.”

Thomas isn’t originally from the area. He grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. “Quite a big change from the city to golf country!” he said. Thomas’s mother received a job offer that moved them to Sanford. He graduated from Southern Lee High School.

“Growing up in Maryland always made me assume that life would always be the way it was. There were a lot of hard times but my parents always made it work, even if it was just to scrape by. It was never really instilled in me that college was a viable option, my parents didn’t attend college and neither did my grandparents, so being here was never in the plan. Maybe to some people, this might be a stepping stone, another degree, or a way to explore an interest and meet new people. But to me Sandhills had given me an opportunity that I never thought I’d have as a kid from the streets of Baltimore. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support of my mom and dad, teachers, and good friends,” Thomas said.

Before beginning at SCC, Thomas’s father passed away. “My dad was my best friend growing up and it’s been very hard getting through the program and trying not to wish he was here to see how much I’ve grown as an individual,” he said.

“When I first came here I wanted to own my own greenhouse business. That may still be in my future, but I have discovered that I love working in public gardening. Climbing trees was a lot of fun and I could even see myself doing that. I’m pretty all over the place right now, but I think no matter what I decide on, I can accomplish anything and everything I set my mind on.” No matter what Thomas decides to do, one of his goals is to own farmland with space for lots of dogs to run freely.

In the Landscape Gardening program, Thomas has had plenty of hands-on experience. “It’s more than just going outside and planting flowers and pulling weeds. There are many avenues this program exposes us to and can offer something of interest to anyone seeking a career in this industry. We learn all about hardscaping, irrigation, pest management, landscape design, plant identification, propagation, and much more.”

In particular, Thomas fell in love with arboriculture class. “It was pretty intimidating at first being so high up off the ground with nothing but a climbing belt and rope between me and the ground.” He’s also enjoyed plant identification. “I didn’t quite get the hang of it at first but once I found my technique it started clicking. Now I can barely walk past a plant without trying to ID it and if I can’t, then I do my best to figure out what it is using my own resources!”

It’s no surprise that Thomas’s favorite place on campus is the Horticultural Gardens. He loves the wooden overlook in the Hillside Garden close to the stream, where he can hear the running water, and the Japanese Garden.

With all his success, we asked Thomas what advice he had for students. “Don’t be deterred by a bad grade. I’m not saying fail just to fail, but we’re all here to learn. Learn from your mistakes and turn them into something new. As long as you’re taking something away from your mistakes I think that’s what matters. Do the best you can, even if your best is only 10% on that day, then you give all of that 10% possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your teachers and friends. When you can, give back to others, your community, and your industry. Believe in yourself and your ability to overcome any obstacle. And lastly, pace yourself. It isn’t a race to the finish so don’t be afraid to slow down, take a deep breath, and look back to see how far you’ve come.”

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