Asheboro is his home, he’s proud to tell you. At the edge of the Uwharrie Mountains, its economy continues its transition from a reliance on furniture and textiles. His family had very limited means, but all eight kids were taught to aspire. “My mom really taught me the value of going to school and getting a college education, not just for a job but just really pushing your family,” he says. “I think a college education really liberates you, especially a small town kid like myself.”
Between evictions and foreclosures, they never stayed in one place long. As she took realtor coursework and transitioned to a home-selling career, her new job meant the family could move into an actual house – till the housing market collapsed and the Great Recession hit. Most of the 15 places his family – mom and his seven siblings – lived have been leveled, he says. But one remains, much like it’s been for a hundred years. It’s where he and cousins and friends fished, hunted, rode ATVs. It’s his grandpa’s farmland, with a well dug by hand, the old home still heated with a woodstove. Up on a rise, it tops a grassy valley with hardwoods and beech trees all the way to the Uwharrie River.
It’s quiet, here in March. The crows of a Rhode Island Red rooster next to the woodshed. A chainsaw in the distance, and a hint of his grandpa’s radio from inside. High in the sky, contrails. Those planes and all those people are going somewhere. Joshua is too.
One thing you learn really quickly, when spending time with Josh: He is highly motivated. In FFA with meat grading and evaluation? He took prizes at state competitions. Clay pigeon shooting, on his grandpa’s farm? He took regional awards in his age division. Baseball? He learned to lay off curve balls and pounce on the fast ones, earning a .500+ batting average his senior year, the top on his team. At graduation, he was first in his class at Wheatmore High School in Trinity, with its motto “Honor. Pride. Valor.”
He got acceptance letters from Ivy League schools, UNC Chapel Hill, Duke, and NC State. Pfeiffer College offered him a full scholarship for baseball. His eye, though, was on UNC Greensboro.
“I really loved this area, and I really love the people around here, and the connections that I’ve gained,” he says. “So UNC Greensboro was always at the top of my list because of those reasons, and you know, struggling with money.”
“Economics was something I really enjoyed studying, and the Bryan School of Business and Economics has one of the best economics programs in the state.” And he knew he was completely dependent on getting a scholarship.
“I would not have been able to go to college without a scholarship,” he explains. “The Bryan School, they reached out to me during the application process. I interviewed with multiple people at the Bryan School. I guess they saw potential in me, and they offered me the Blue and Gold Scholarship, which is a full-ride scholarship.”
His life trajectory turned. He had the opportunity to excel on a higher level.
“‘Acquire what you admire,’ that’s the quote I like.”
A highlight this year has been helping teach a couple of Bryan School courses. He ends each lesson with the same two words: “Carpe diem.”
At a January class, they discussed what that Latin phrase means.
“You’re given one life. Every moment matters,” he tells the students. Seize the day.
“You have an idea of your highest potential. You should work towards developing yourself, growing yourself in order to become better every single day.”
His teaching is a part of the Bryan School’s Blueprint Series program, one of many unique offerings by the school to build your academic experience.
Classes during the pandemic have been unusual – with social distancing and masks de rigueur. But this Business 216 course, like the 115 course he taught in the fall – both foundational skills classes for personal and professional development – has opened his eyes.
Being a teacher, developing the lesson plans, ensuring the students are learning what they need to know, have brought him an epiphany. “The program has really taught me what I want to do with my life, and that is to go into education.”
He is mentoring the students, as others have done for him. “You’re helping them with personal and professional development, and helping them discover their values, their goals, their purpose. You’re helping them construct a resumé, to interview, and to do public speaking. We really try to push them for professional success.”
And to reach their full potential. Yes, to seize the day.
Joshua says he chose UNCG for its great reputation. Fact is, the academic excellence at UNCG is remarkable. You could go on and on, but here are a few examples the average person may not know…
Counseling and Educational Development This graduate program in the School of Education is rated in the top 3 nationally by U.S. News and World Report.
Music Education A high number of music teachers in the state’s public schools are UNCG graduates. The program has a national reputation. This year, two Grammy finalists for music education were alumni. In 2016, graduate Phillip Riggs ’98 MED received the Grammy.
Josh graduates this May, in his third year. He has been taking 18 to 21 hours a semester, plus he came in with some credits. He’s worked hard to maintain a 4.0 average. He decided to double major, in economics and religious studies.
“It’s really just based off my personality. I love thinking about money. That’s economics. And I love thinking about society and other people. And that’s religious studies”
His upbringing is as a Southern Baptist, very influenced by his mother. He has great respect for religion, all religions, and knows that religion helps a lot of people. “In modern society, we look at a religion as something divisive. And I think it’s something that really unites people. It’s also something that’s so important, especially in 21st-century politics,” he says.
“That’s why I started to enjoy studying about other religions. The first religion class was about Islam, because I just wanted to learn more about Islam. Islam was something that I always heard on the news and had no clue what it was about. And so, I studied that. And then I studied about Buddhism and Christian monastic life.”
When he walks into the oldest building on campus – Foust – and hangs a right toward the Religious Studies Department, he knows he’ll be challenged and experience views he’d never known.
Dr. Gregory Grieve, recipient of the UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award, opened his eyes as an intellectual to the study of Buddhism. Dr. Derek Krueger opened his eyes to the study of monasticism. The Joe Rosenthal Excellence Professor in Religious Studies, Krueger is a leading authority on monasticism and is chair of the U.S. National Committee for Byzantine Studies.
That’s something Josh values: Spartan students can enjoy relatively small classes with national figures who not only are leading researchers, they love to teach.
So what else does he do in his off hours?
He smiles. He holds up a battered journal. It holds his daily schedule, lots of notes – and something he is very keen on, his workout regimen. He runs several mornings a week and also works out at the Kaplan Center for Wellness.
“Running and lifting, I do one of those every single day. On the weekend sometimes I take off depending on how my body feels.”
He keeps track of it all – and his meals too. Ask him about nutrition, he’ll tell you his full plan. (He starts the day with six eggs, minus the yolk, if you’re curious.) And he enjoys officiating sports, something he’s done since high school: football, basketball, baseball, lacrosse. When he arrived at UNCG, he played for the UNCG Athletics baseball team his freshman year – catcher was his position. Later, he helped found the UNCG club baseball team.
He is in Beta Gamma Sigma, the honor society for business students. He is an officer of the National Association for Business Economics chapter, a club holding economics-related events. He was the vice president of the Bryan School’s Spartan Finance and Investment Club. He is also one of the University Marshals.
His journal (as does his phone) holds great quotes he hears. He loves great sayings – full of wisdom and power.
“Every time I hear a quote where I say, ‘Oh, that one spoke to my soul,’ I write it down.”
He’s been doing that since he was a kid. Some examples?
• Purpose over pleasure. “I use that one, usually, whenever I’m about to eat something I shouldn’t eat.”
• The key to lasting contentment is service.
• He who has a why can bear almost any how. “That’s Frederick Nietzsche. Yeah, if you have a purpose, it doesn’t matter what happens or how you can do it, you can do it.”
• A man without vision always returns to his past. “Without it, you’re always going backwards, you’re not going forward.”
He knows his mind and body are one. He takes care to keep both well-nourished.
The steepest hills can be the most beautiful. As he climbs the long, grassy incline back to his grandpa’s house, he explains his day. Last evening, he got his “high and tight” haircut at Great Cuts, so he’d be ready for this day. He awoke early. Had his six eggs. And now he’s spending the morning showing a reporter and photographer around the farm. He introduces his grandpa Darrell Swaney – his “Big Daddy” – and they show off his 1956 Chevrolet and his trusty 1962 Massey Ferguson tractor. Josh has to leave by noon. He has a big appointment in Raleigh.
“I plan on joining the United States Marine Corps as an officer,” he says.
“I’ll be going to OCS – Officer Candidate School – this May, and that lasts until August, and then I’ll be going to The Basic School with the hopes of becoming a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.”
That is, if he does well enough that afternoon on his PFT – the US Marine Corps’ Physical Fitness Test. It consists of dead-hang pull ups, planks, and a three-mile run.
“In order to achieve a 100 in every single area, for the pull ups, it’s 23 pull ups. For the plank, it’s four minutes and 20 seconds. And for the run, it’s 18 minutes or less.” That’s with hills.
And that’s why he has been running and preparing his body at the Kaplan Center for Wellness for the past year.
“The test is probably the most important part of trying to become selected for Officer Candidate School.”
Later in the day, he’ll talk with his OSO – officer selection officer – and try to get a better gauge on how he is looking compared to the other candidates in the program. He’ll drive his Camry back to Southern Guilford High School, to officiate a football game. The next morning, he’ll work a state Basketball Championship game that happens to be at his old high school gym.
And of course, there’s his schoolwork.
“The key to lasting contentment is service.”
Josh received a full-ride scholarship to attend UNCG. The speech in this video was given at a scholarship donors luncheon, where he was selected as the keynote speaker to share his story and how his scholarship has changed his life. “I am appreciative to all who give to scholarship funds,” he said, “as they are not only helping education, but the education of future generations.”
Josh has his big, shorter-term goal. And one on the far horizon.
The first one is serving as an officer in the Marines. He managed to run fast enough that day through the streets of Raleigh to get a perfect 300 on his PFT.
He explains his older brother served in the Marines, and Josh always saw it as the best. “What’s really pushed me to join the Marines is learning how to serve others, and serving my country, and being the best at it while I’m doing it – and that’s becoming an officer in the United States Marine Corps.”
He expects his enlistment will be eight years.
In the distance is a dream he’s had for himself a long time. He’ll get his PhD, then serve the next generations on the university level.
He sees himself thriving as a professor, or perhaps in administration at a university. In some way, he wants to make a big impact on students’ lives, as many mentors and supporters have had such a positive impact on his.
Right now, as final exams and graduation approach, he continues to get up at 4 a.m. each morning to run or work out, to be ready for Quantico.
He visits his old haunts in Randolph County as much as time allows. He spends as much time with his girlfriend as he can. His family time is precious, too.
Preparing for classes and his teaching each week takes the bulk of his time – he’s still aiming for a 4.0 GPA.
And when he can, he dreams. He ponders the future. He thinks of where he has been and where he is going. He considers everyone who is a part of his journey.
And he wonders at it all.