One bright sunny day in May of 1980, I was awarded my Doctorate by Lehigh University. For those of you who have gone through the pain and agony of such an undertaking, you understand how wonderful it felt to finally finish and stop all of the apple polishing and gut wrenching work it took to finally get to the end. A friend of mine has actually written a book about the experience. I have no great desire to read it.
The final event was that bright day in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, when President Deming Lewis called my name and I walked up to the rostrum and was handed my scroll by none other than Henry Kissinger. It did not dawn on me till later why he was there. Henry was married to Nancy Maginnes, the daughter of Albert Maginnes, for whom a building was named on Lehigh’s campus. She was a researcher for Nelson Rockefeller. She is also a philanthropist.
The words that came out of Henry Kissinger’s mouth as he gave me my scroll sounded like someone gargling. However, it must have been something like congratulations Dr. Hillman. I could not have been prouder on that day. To say that I had worked my butt off for that degree is to minimize the effort. I had worked full time as a school superintendent, was president of my rotary club, written my dissertation and had built a room in the basement to get my work done.
I have been reminded of my work just recently. My dissertation title was, “Creative Problem Solving and Success as a school Superintendent.” Just that title took me one whole year of reflection and arguing with my advisor, Dr. Charles Guditus. Charlie would not let me inject one extra word into my problem statement. I argued that people would not understand what I was doing if I did not explain it. He would laugh at me and tell me to work harder. He must have been right because I won the Lloyd Ashby Award for the best dissertation.
I am not usually given to brag about my accomplishments. It’s a family tradition. However, my dissertation was followed up by four other dissertations. However, none of my followers had the same experience that I did. My understanding of education in Pennsylvania began with my travels around the state to actually speak with and test 50 different superintendents of school- 25 successful ones and 25 randomly chosen. The results of my research changed the way I looked at education forever.