Giovanni Hutchings came to Ashland for one reason. But his experiences over the last four years have, in his estimation, completely overshadowed the decision he made as an 18-year-old. And the results have been nothing short of extraordinary.
“Growing up,” he says, “football was my life. It was my whole identity. It was all I thought about.” A standout player during his high school career at St. Edward’s high school in Cleveland, Ohio, Giovanni’s first experience with Ashland University was during a football summer camp held on campus. Even after he was recruited by the Eagle staff, he still wasn’t sure if Ashland was the right fit for him. But he took a chance, and the payoff, he says, couldn’t have been more significant.
“Back in high school, Ashland was in the running,” he says. “And it was followed closely by a couple of other schools. If I had to do it again, though? Ashland would be the only school on the list. I wouldn’t even look anywhere else. That’s how great my experience here has been.”
Along with the camaraderie and lifelong friendships he made with teammates, he discovered a whole new world of opportunity through the academic opportunities he found here. While Giovanni started at Ashland as a business administration major, he shifted to criminal justice with minors in religion and political science early in his sophomore year. The Ashbrook Scholars Program, he says, had a lot to do with not only his plans for the future but also with who he has become as a man.
“I accidentally rode the library elevator to the eighth floor one day,” he says, flashing his wide, signature smile. “I got out and was, like: where am I? Is this George Washington’s house? And the blue carpet–I’d never seen carpet like that before.”
Intrigued–and a little confused–he went to the desk and asked where he was. When the receptionist explained what the Ashbrook Center was, he was hooked. “Two weeks later, I was in the Ashbrook Scholars Program. And it changed everything.”
Apart from football, Giovanni’s future had always seemed like it was leading to law school. While Ashland doesn’t have a pre-law program, he found what he needed in terms of intellectual rigor and educational structure within the program’s classes. “Ashbrook classes aren’t like other college classes,” he says. “You get dialogue. You’re encouraged to read primary sources and then decide for yourself what they mean. It’s the whole ‘teaching you how to think, not what to think’ educational approach. My conception of things, which I always took for granted, is completely different now. Justice, goodness, truth: we wrestled with these ideas and had to decide what they meant for us. It was incredible.”
Truth, for Giovanni, is a recurring theme in his conversations. And while his conception of truth started with John Locke, Aristotle and many other foundational Western thinkers he encountered in the Ashbrook Scholars Program, it got a significant boost from a surprising source.
“There was one guy on the football team,” he says. “You could tell he was different. Everybody else would be doing one thing, and he’d respond to the same situation, whether it was positive or negative, in a completely different way. One day, I asked him what was different. And he said, I’m not weird, I just love Jesus.” This friendship with Austin Brenner, who would eventually become his roommate, led to Giovanni’s involvement with Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) on campus. It would also put him in direct contact with Joe Maggalet, athletic program chaplain and director of the FCA chapter at Ashland. “He’s a man of wisdom,” says Giovanni. “I learned so much from him. I’d been a Christian before college, but after reading the Bible for the first time in an introductory religion class and then getting to know Joe, everything just opened up for me.”
Giovanni regularly gives his testimony–which he calls his “success story” and has titled it, “Wins and Losses”–about this period of spiritual and personal growth in his life. “I’m a completely different person than when I arrived on campus as a freshman. I understand who I am and why I’m here on earth. I have a purpose.”
Last fall, Giovanni was crowned Homecoming King. “It was surprising,” he says. “I didn’t expect to be nominated, let alone win. But the whole experience was awesome.”
In terms of what’s next for Giovanni, he is returning for his final season of football eligibility in the fall and simultaneously attending Ashland Theological Seminary and preparing for the LSAT. “I’m not sure what my specific direction is in the short term, but I’m open to what God has next for me. I’m just moving forward and keeping the lines of communication open.”
When asked what advice he would give to students considering Ashland University, he doesn’t have to think about his answer for more than a moment: “Be open-minded. Coming here gives you a chance to discover your purpose, to figure out who you are. There’s so much Ashland has to offer. Pursue Jesus; pursue the opportunities in front of you as you keep your eyes and ears open. Because you will find your calling if you stay open to it.”