Jon Mark Beilue: Finding Canyon on a Map

Finding Canyon on a Map

Hatcher ‘becomes a man’ on a 1,300-mile leap of faith


If ever there were an accidental honor student at West Texas A&M University, it would be Roderick Hatcher.

Here he was, a graduating high school senior at Plymouth Christian Academy outside the greater Detroit city of Romulus, Mich., trying to find out where exactly Canyon, Texas was, searching on Google as to what WTAMU was all about, and then finding himself alone on a plane to Texas to college.

A stranger in a strange land.Roderick Hatcher

“Second thoughts? I would say, ‘Yeah,’” Hatcher said. “Going on a plane to WT, first time on a plane by myself, and honestly just alone and dealing with the consequences of my choice, was tough. It was a totally new state, and I had some doubts, sure.”

Perhaps an explanation is due as to why a native of Michigan was heading to an unknown university. Hatcher was an outstanding student at Plymouth Christian in Canton, Mich. He wanted to go to college, but tried to determine his future on his own.

“I was a little more indecisive than most of my peers,” he said. “I definitely wanted to leave Michigan. I didn’t want to go anywhere in the state.”

Hatcher, with a bit of adventure in him, wanted the sunshine of either California, Florida or Texas. He also wanted to study veterinary medicine. Texas A&M made a lot of sense.

So he applied to College Station. He more or less got a rejection letter, or at least a not-now letter. Hatcher was told by A&M admissions that he was too late in the process for the 2015 fall semester.

The best option was to attend one of Texas A&M system universities for a year, reapply, and if the grades were good enough, to enter A&M that way. Sounded good enough for Hatcher, who began looking at A&M system schools.

WTAMU appeared to be the best option – the size, the location of smaller Canyon nestled against the city of Amarillo. So he took a large leap of faith.

“I was kind of shocked I didn’t get into my original school (A&M),” he said, “so I was just looking for a school that looked all right.”

Hatcher had been with his mother for freshman orientation. Now in August 2015 he flew to Amarillo alone, looking for an unfamiliar face from Baptist Student Ministries to pick him up.

“I felt a lot of anxiety. I don’t know really where I am. Who is the guy who is supposed to pick me up,” Hatcher said. “Then I saw Mark, or he saw me. He said, ‘You look lost. I assume you are Roderick.’ And he just put me at ease.”

On the way to WTAMU, Hatcher was told about the 72-ounce steak challenge as they whisked by The Big Texan and was shown the healing powers of Whataburger. And then he got to campus.

“That’s where the residence hall helped me the most,” Hatcher said. “I just instantly clicked with people at Guenther Hall. They were gamers. I’m a gamer. That’s originally how I clicked and eased my way into a completely new environment.”

‘This place is home’

That fall semester of 2015 drifted into the end of the spring semester of 2016. Hatcher was now eligible to apply for admission into A&M. A&M? Remember A&M?

“Staying was not a tough decision at all,” Hatcher said. “I just felt like this place was home. The way RAs (resident assistants) treated me, the way ministry treated me, that gave back to me, and in turn, I wanted to give back to people.”

The spur-of-the-moment way Hatcher chose to go to a school 1,300 miles away is the exception, but that he’s not from the immediate area is not. Of WTAMU’s approximately 10,000 students, right at half of them are from outside of the Texas Panhandle.

In some cases, a long way off.

And that, said Dr. Wader Shaffer, provost/vice president for academic affairs, only adds to the University experience of diversity and broadening outlooks.

“Some, not all, but some of our students have grown up around ranching and farming and have a certain outlook on life,” he said. “To share a class or dorm room or sit down with someone from an urban environment with a different world view and different perspective, that’s part of the college experience. It’s learning beyond what you already know.

“Students need to expand their horizons, to use that horrible phrase. Growing up in Plano is different than growing up in Dumas. They need to know that life has merit as well growing up in small town America when in the 21st century, fewer and fewer are doing that. So it’s great to have that mix.”

Hatcher, a wildlife biology major, is in the Attebury Honors program. Literature may not be necessary for managing wildlife, but it is if a student is in the honors program.

Hatcher is one of 13 students in a class that Shaffer teaches on “The Great Books.” The requirement is to read seven books this semester with three to four papers on them. This semester’s theme—the individual in society.

“He has a different perspective and different take than most students I encounter here,” said Shaffer of Hatcher, who has his own 6-star rating on the books. “Part of that is his background and where he grew up.

“Very early on, he came to me and explained very quietly that he had never read anything about these books before and was nervous about not being able to understand them. That honesty from an honor student was a little bit disarming but also refreshing.”

Hatcher is in his second semester as an RA at Guenther, the dorm he’s lived his entire time at WTAMU. An RA fits him where he has opportunities to interact with students in the ups and downs of college life.

“If I see a problem, it’s out of my character to just sit back,” he said.

Hatcher is scheduled to graduate in May 2019.  He’s not sure if he will remain in Texas or return to his home state, but he is a changed person. This University and this region—places he’d never heard of four years ago—have changed him.

“WT has taught me how to stand on my own and become a man,” he said. “You can’t graduate if you don’t know what you stand for and what you believe in. WT does a great job in nurturing that.”


Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at


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Jeff Barnett
on 11.30.2018

Congrats Hatcher. I am an online MBA student and have a found a fondness for WTAMU even though I haven't been to the campus yet. I am middle aged and still raising kids in a suburb of Houston. While our connections to the University are very different your story inspires me. May God bless your endeavors and may your next step be as fruitful as your 1300 mile leap to Canyon, TX.