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Advancement News

Becoming the Person He Ought to Be

Posted Nov. 2, 2009

The late Professor Bernard Tabbs in the 1982 Chestnut Burr yearbook.Kip Petroff, '80, arrived at Kent State with limited career goals and the assumption he would be an average student. His Freshman Honors Colloquium changed all of that.

It was there that he met Professor Bernard Tabbs, an instructor unlike any other he had throughout his education. "He just had a brightness about him that was completely different from any other professor I had in college," Petroff says. "He got your attention. He was lively; he didn't lecture. I don't think he ever once gave a lecture.

"It made me want to learn; it just changed everything for me."

Petroff found the classes so impactful, he recorded many of them. "He just engaged the class; if you went along with him, you'd get so much out of your classes that it would change you. To this day, when I listen to his classes, I get a tremendous amount out of them."

Petroff, who went on to take four additional classes with Tabbs, also responded to the professor's motto: "You will never become the person you ought to be until you want to become the person you can be." Taking that motto to heart, he rethought his career plans and went on to law school.

"I kept in touch with him during law school, to the extent that he was going to be a lifelong friend," Petroff says. But the young professor passed away the year Petroff graduated from law school.

The Honors College alumnus kept Tabbs' motto close to his heart after his death, becoming a successful lawyer in Dallas. He has co-founded New Hope Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps those in hard times get back on their feet. Through this foundation, he is building a community learning center in an impoverished area of Dallas. He's also working on a book — and memorializing his beloved professor, whom he credits for much of his success.

Petroff has endowed an Honors College scholarship in memory of Dr. Bernard Tabbs as part of the Centennial Campaign. Because the scholarship is endowed, future generations of students will learn from Tabbs' philosophy in perpetuity.

"I've always felt as if he was responsible for me becoming what I am, and becoming close to the best person that I could be," he says. "I'm trying to help kids get the gift of education, to be inspired as I was. Dr. Tabbs pulled me aside early on and said, hey, you can do a whole lot more with your life. That was the moment that changed my life, and I am hoping to help change the lives of others with Dr. Tabbs as my inspiration."

This story originally appeared in the fall 2009 Kent State Magazine.