UNF education prepares grad for life inside the Beltway

clarey
Clarey Walker isn’t one to let an opportunity pass him by.

He made the jump from an education career in Northeast Florida to pursue his true passion in politics in Washington, D.C. He worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, toured Canada, Ethiopia, Tanzania and the Netherlands with former President Bill Clinton and eventually landed a position with the Department of Defense.

His path to success was plotted at the University of North Florida, where Walker learned that getting involved and being a part of the community was the key to professional advancement. He credits UNF with giving him the tools to pursue his career goals, which is why he stepped up as a donor during the recently concluded Power of Transformation campaign.

“After everything I received from UNF, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I was going to give something back,” he said.

Walker's UNF journey started in 1997 when UNF’s Admissions Office first contacted him. The Gainesville resident wanted to find a school that was close to home but could still allow him to develop personally and academically. After adding UNF to his list of possibilities, he visited the campus on his own to get a feel for the University. It didn't take long for him to realize that UNF was different from any college he had ever visited.

"A student saw me walking across campus, and he could tell I was a little lost and out of my element," Walker said. "He asked me if I was new, and I told him I was a prospective student. At that point, he took it upon himself to show me around the campus himself — the classrooms, Osprey Hall, the library and everything else. It was that kind of personal touch that really drove the impact of the campus home to me and made me realize UNF was an inclusive place where I wanted to be."

He started that summer in the University’s Quality for the Ultimate Educational Success Today (QUEST) Program, an academic program offering scholarship assistance through the Intercultural Center for PEACE to first-time-in-college minority freshman students. Once Walker became acclimated to his new environment and his classes in the political science and communication departments, he dove in to any campus activity he could fit into his ever-expanding schedule.

There was his job in Admissions, followed by another gig at the Center for Multicultural Affairs, which later morphed into the Intercultural Center for PEACE. He served as a resident assistant in campus housing for a year and still found time to contribute to the African American Student Union. He helped choose UNF President Anne Hopkins in 1998 as a student representative on the presidential search committee and was nominated homecoming king during his senior year. He even donned the iconic Ozzie the Osprey mascot costume to represent UNF at athletics events.

“I was constantly getting involved around campus,” Walker said. “There wasn’t an activity that I didn’t think about signing up for. That’s the wonderful part about UNF — there’s really something for everyone. I found out during my experiences that the only limiting factor is you.”

Walker immediately found work as a teacher in the Duval County School District shortly after his 2001 graduation. He taught for two years, but his mind was already racing about the additional academic opportunities present in graduate school. He met with former UNF President Adam Herbert, who advised him to follow his dream and pursue graduate school in Washington, D.C. That conversation led him to American University, where he received a master’s degree in public administration and campaign management. He spent time as a staffer for U.S. Senator Bill Nelson before taking the aforementioned position on Clinton’s campaign. Now, he’s a staff officer at the Department of Defense, and he’s contemplating an eventual run for public office.

Every step of the way, Walker said he’s pulled from his UNF education and experiences to guide him on his upward career trajectory.

“I had such an amazing opportunity to be a part of so many different organizations, causes and clubs while I was at UNF,” Walker said. “These experiences expanded my own worldview and allowed me to really develop as a student. I’m also a more well-rounded person thanks to my time at UNF. I credit the University with shaping me into the man I am today.”