At first, Thomas Histon downplayed the idea of attending Lander University. His sister, Haley, had been a Lander student, and he was adamant: “I’m not going to Lander. That’s where my sister went.”
But his sister, a 2019 graduate, convinced him to see the campus from his own perspective. “Just take a tour, and see what happens.”
Other tours of college campuses had been in groups of 20-plus students and parents, and “none of the tour guides ever had my major,” said Histon, who wanted to study education and become a teacher.
At Lander, his tour guide took Histon, of Greenville, and one other family on a tour. As fate would have it, she, too, had the same major and was able to tell him about the “faculty I would take classes with … she could answer questions about what I wanted to know. She painted a picture for me about what my Lander experience would be.”
From that day on, “I knew that I would fit into campus life, the kinds of extracurricular activities I could be involved in,” said Histon, who earned his bachelor’s degree in history, with an emphasis in secondary education.
He fit in quite well.
Histon became a Presidential Ambassador, a job which afforded him the opportunity to conduct tours, welcome visitors to campus and work in the Office of Admissions.
“The importance of that job is not lost on me. After my tour, I knew Lander ‘was it’ for me,” he said. “I wanted high school students to know the cool things that Lander offers and the opportunities they would have here.”
A student in the Honors College, Histon was a residence hall assistant for three years and became the training director for XLR Lander Radio, a job that required helping students learn the equipment for the shows they produced and being on call for questions and technical assistance.
As a senior, Histon was placed at Abbeville High School for his student teaching experience. There, he had the opportunity to mentor students wanting to participate in Lander’s first Dr. Benjamin E. Mays High School Essay Contest for students in the Lakelands.
One of the students, Baylee Wilson, a freshman at Abbeville High, won first place, and Histon earned an award for his mentorship during the competition. “I was very proud of Baylee,” he said. “She approached the competition with determination and confidence. You can’t teach that kind of motivation and drive. I simply gave her to the opportunity to work toward a goal and to encourage all of the students to succeed.”
Although his passion is history, Histon has a strong passion for teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to students of all ages. Before arriving at Lander, Histon volunteered with the Greenville Literacy Association and taught reading, writing and language skills to people from countries such as China, Russia, Brazil and Mexico.
“I love teaching English as a second language and introducing people to the United States,” he said.
His passion for teaching English will become a full-time job in September when he moves to Vigo, Spain. There, he will be teaching at the Colegio de Fomento-Montecastelo, a private school which has students from kindergarten to high school and offers a wide range of academic programs, including the arts and robotics. Situated in the northwest corner of Spain along the Iberian Peninsula, the region is steeped in history, including attacks by the Vikings and an archaeological area dating to the first through third centuries.
Histon cast a wide net to search for job opportunities at schools seeking bilingual instructors. He had studied three years of Spanish in high school and recently has honed his Spanish-speaking skills by listening to music. “I know more Spanish than I thought I did, but I would not call my level fluent,” he said. “That will change over the summer and during my stay. Hopefully, when I return to the United States, I will be able to speak Spanish really well.”
His trip to Spain will be the first opportunity Histon has had to travel abroad. A plan to study in Thailand was thwarted by the Covid outbreak in 2020. “I was super bummed about that,” he said, “but I’m traveling abroad now, and I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities ahead.”
As a Lander student, Histon earned President’s and Dean’s List honors for his studies. In 2022, he was presented the XLR Award to recognize his work at the student radio station. He was selected the recipient of the 2023 Barbara A. Jackson Award, established in honor of Lander’s former first lady, Barbara Jackson and recognizing a senior history major who best demonstrates scholarly excellence in his or her history thesis. Histon also received the Honors Medal from Lander’s Honors College and the Secondary Education Award.
Histon had a couple of months to adjust to life away from Lander. “It was such a quick two weeks at the end of school. I was finalizing my student teaching assignments and my residence hall responsibilities. Suddenly, it was graduation, and then it was time to go,” he said.
“I’m so thankful for the opportunities I had at Lander,” Histon said. “I think about that tour that I wasn’t sure about taking. But it opened my eyes to what Lander could do for me.”
And from that tour, taken more than four years ago, Histon now is headed out to the world on an international adventure in which he has a chance to shape the lives of young people who also may be uncertain about their own academic pursuits.