Ernest Calderón called the moment “surreal,” yet he was in the midst of being celebrated and acknowledged because of his tangible impact on Northern Arizona University.
Praise and gratitude rose from a packed courtyard on campus Friday afternoon as the NAU alumnus and president emeritus of the Arizona Board of Regents was honored with the renaming of the Aspen Crossing residence hall to Ernest Calderón Learning Community. A crowd of friends, family and the campus community gathered to hear about Calderón’s commitment to NAU as a regent and his origins as a student from the mining town of Morenci.
“NAU changed my life,” Calderón said before the event. “When I arrived here, I met wonderful people who told me I could make a difference in the world. They helped me and encouraged me.”
NAU President John Haeger opened his remarks by reading excerpts of a letter from Robert C. Dickeson, who was vice president for student affairs when Calderón first came to campus. In the letter, Dickeson declared, “This naming is not only in recognition of his accomplishments, which are many. It is primarily because he symbolizes what we at NAU have been doing exceptionally well for over 120 years, and that is actualizing the potential of the students who come to Flagstaff.”
Haeger credited Calderón for being a steady source of support during eight and a half years serving as a regent, during which time a physical transformation of campus took place and the Pledge Program launched, giving each class of incoming first-year students eight semesters of unchanging tuition.
“Those changes occurred because of the partnership of Regent Calderón and me,” Haeger said. “The buildings came because we experienced the most rapid enrollment growth in our history, and the reason is the Pledge Program.”
The renamed residence hall opened in 2008 as part of the building boom and today houses upper-class honor students in a 24-hour quiet zone.
Flagstaff Mayor Jerry Nabours described Calderón as “one of those who believes the city of Flagstaff and NAU are closely interwoven and interdependent.”
In an emotional, wide-ranging presentation, Calderón offered a narrative of thanks to family, faculty, classified employees, the Board of Regents and to students. “It’s all about them,” he said.
“NAU is my home,” Calderón said. “To have something here named after my family means a great deal, and I truly appreciate that.”
Calderón became Arizona’s first Harry S. Truman Scholar in 1977 and served as president of the Associated Students of NAU his senior year prior to receiving the President’s Award and the Gold Axe Award. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in business administration from NAU in 1979 and a juris doctorate from the University of Arizona College of Law in 1982. Calderón earned a graduate certificate from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 2009.
In 2012, Calderón received an honorary doctorate from NAU. He serves on the NAU Foundation Board and is an adjunct faculty member at NAU. He was appointed to the Arizona Board of Regents in 2004 by then-Gov. Napolitano (a fellow Truman Scholar).
Calderón is the founder of Calderón Law Offices and maintains an active practice focusing on civil law.