Joshua Gates will graduate from Minnesota State University Moorhead with cum laude honors, a summer internship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and a scholarship and stipend that put him on track for a master’s degree. Dave Wallis / The Forum

By: Helmut Schmidt, INFORUM

MOORHEAD – In just a few short years, the arc of Joshua Gates’ academic life has gone from meh to marvelous.

Gates’ identity at Mayville (N.D.) High School was as a football, basketball, track and baseball standout. But that didn’t transfer to the classroom.

He had a 2.5 grade-point average and was 47th out of a graduating class of 54 in 2009, he said. His college placement test scores were borderline.

Most subjects were tedious to Gates, but he loved history and has wanted to work in museums since he was a child – perhaps even the Smithsonian Institution, he told people.

His teachers told him he might teach history in a middle school or high school. His father pointed him to the military.

“I thought I could do better. I thought I could do more,” Gates said.

Turns out, he did.

Today, Gates will graduate from Minnesota State University Moorhead rocking a 3.5 GPA and a political science degree with a coaching minor.

His summer will be spent as an intern in the curatorial office of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

And he scored a generous scholarship and stipend at the University of Delaware that puts him on track for a master’s degree.

“I am ready” for the next step, Gates said. “It’s been a good four years, but a long four years.”

Gates said an MSUM academic bootstrap program at the now-closed Corrick Center got him on track for success.

A series of teachers also encouraged him and got him to embrace the life of the mind.

He credits his adviser Margaret Sankey, who was also one of his principal history instructors, with keeping him focused.

“Once I had him in class, I could see how interested he was in research,” Sankey said.

“I have no doubt that any museum that gets Josh will get someone 200 percent engaged,” she said. “I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do.”

Gates worked several jobs to help pay his way through school.

On campus, he worked at the Academic Support Center, and did tutoring and peer advising.

Off campus, he worked as a cleaning specialist for Servicemaster, and at the Moorhead Sports Center as a Zamboni ice-surfacing machine driver.

“I wanted an education, so I paid for it,” he said. “I got used to six hours of sleep.”

He said he had to become very good at time management and self-motivation to keep up with his studies. He deliberately kept a rein on his social life.

“I had to prove to myself that I could do better without sports,” he said. “At the college, I just woke up, so to speak. “

This fall, he’ll attend the University of Delaware in Newark and pursue a master’s in historic preservation with certificates in museum studies and public history.

He’s been awarded a 90 percent scholarship and an annual research stipend of more than $16,000.

Eventually, he said he’d like to try for a doctorate.

Earlier this week, as the sun beat down on the campus quadrangle and the buds on the trees were leafing out, he looked out over the scene from the steps of MacLean Hall.

“I just loved the environment, the encouragement, the relationships” with teachers, he said. “I’ll greatly miss them, but it’s also time for the next chapter.

“I’ll miss this whole place, really,” he said.

MSUM’s commencement ceremonies are at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. today in the Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse.

The 10 a.m. ceremony will include graduates from the College of Social and Natural Sciences and the College of Business and Industry.

The 2 p.m. ceremony will include graduates from the College of Education and Human Services and the College of Arts and Humanities.