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The Aquilian

An Eagle Abroad: how Mr. Hartnett’s time overseas led to him returning to Gonzaga

Mr. Brendan Hartnett ’97 leads the El Camino trip with long-time friend and co-worker Mr. Ariel Laguilles ’96. Photo taken by Gonzaga College High School.

As soon as one enters Mr. Brendan Hartnett’s class, the first thing you can notice is a classroom of respect. No one speaks out without permission, and no one disrespects another. He runs a tight ship. From the kids taking notes in the front row to the students further back trying to take it all in, Mr. Hartnett ‘97 runs an efficient classroom, based on his own experience.

“Alright gents,” as Mr. Hartnett always greets the class, “let’s put the device away, and I hope you all did the reading.”

For 22 years, Mr. Hartnett has worked at Gonzaga, serving in both campus ministry and the religion departments, where he served as the head of both. But to what drew him here and where his story unfolds can be pictured (literally) in the painting above his desk: an eagle.

Mr. Hartnett lived almost his entire childhood outside the United States in Cyprus, Liberia and West Africa, exposing him to different cultures and customs at a young age. But – he could not continue this life.  While in Liberia, he had to get out. The Liberian Civil War put him and his family in danger, making him and his family evacuate. 

“That was a pretty transformative experience,” Mr. Hartnett described, “because of the encounter with people fleeing a genocide, and it was people that I knew and went to school with. I sometimes relive some of these moments even to this day. It made me snap awake to the geopolitical dynamics of what’s going on in the world.”

During  his evacuation from Liberia, Mr. Hartnett was never able to fully comprehend what was happening due to his younger age; he was in seventh grade.

“I remember that my parents took me and my siblings to the U.S. base and then we were on an aircraft carrier heading home,” Hartnett recounted. “But when I was first able to grasp – bang! – what was going on, then the first thought that came to my mind was the one that troubled me the most: what happened to everyone I left behind?” 

Over the fence of his house in Liberia, there was a structure that was made up of old scrap metal that a mother and baby lived in because they had nowhere else to live. These two were the first things that came to his mind when he reflected on his time in Liberia.

“I think this realization is what led me back to Gonzaga after I graduated,” Mr. Hartnett said. “I realized the importance of service in the world and how much I wanted to participate in that service. And with Gonzaga’s mascot being an eagle, symbolizing freedom and service, it embodied everything for a place I wanted to work at.”

While as a student at Gonzaga, Mr. Hartnett had his transformative moment in his sophomore year at a service trip along with future friend and Gonzaga teacher Mr. Ariel Laguilles ‘96. 

“The first time I met him,” Mr. Laguilles said, “he seemed like this nice guy who was exactly what a Gonzaga man should be. After becoming friends with him while working here, I truly realized that he is consistent with his values: what he preaches in his classes is how he acts outside of it, too.”

Back in his classroom in present day, Mr. Hartnett moves on with a lesson.

“Let’s get out your notebooks, computer or whatever else you use to take notes,” Mr. Hartnett says.

Behind his desk is the reminder of his past, a representation of his present and a look into his future, showing how Mr. Hartnett has lived out and found the importance of Gonzaga’s mascot: an eagle.

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