Brad Wilson ’75 is president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. An attorney, he earned his law degree from the Wake Forest University School of Law before entering private practice in Lenoir. In 1992, he was named general counsel to Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., a post he held until being named acting secretary of the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety in 1995. He joined Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina in 1995.
Wilson received the Appalachian Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2001 and Outstanding Service Award in 2006. In May 2015, Appalachian honored him with a Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, for his significant contributions to the state and nation.
Q: Why should a prospective student consider majoring in history – what value does it have?
A: I have always been interested in history. At an early age I read lots of presidential biographies and biographies of Revolutionary and Civil War leaders. That is what spawned my interest in becoming a lawyer.
To me the study of history is the study of people, places and events. It is the study of complex, variable circumstances that either coalesced or collided to shape who we are. It is the study of leadership. From all of this, one can learn how to be a leader – how to engage, how to influence and shape the circumstances of their personal and professional life, how to inspire and be inspired. And certainly, how not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
I learned how to read deeply and broadly. I learned how to think differently and critically. I learned how to write better and speak better because I majored in history. I also need to give a tip of the hat to my political science and philosophy and religion minors for sharpening those skills as well.
That is why history has value to me.
Q: Why should a student interested in history consider Appalachian, as opposed to another college or university?
A: I advise prospective students to visit all the schools in which they have an interest and attend the one that makes their heart sing. Of course that presumes the course of study in which the student is interested is available at that university. I also tell prospective students to go where they want to go, not where anyone else (parents primarily) want them to go. If you are happy and confident in your choice, you will perform better. So, students should matriculate at the university that makes their heart sing!
So, why Appalachian for history? For the same reasons they should consider Appalachian for any course of study. Outstanding faculty who truly care and are engaged with their student. A nurturing, challenging, friendly academic environment. A place where academics, the arts and athletics are in balance; where excellence is valued.
It has been a while since I was a history student, but I am still in touch with a couple of my professors. That doesn’t happen everywhere
I have had the privilege of meeting several of the current history faculty and I am confident they are doing for their students what was done for me – stretching my mind while inspiring my heart. Building confidence and intellectual strength. Shaping a life of purpose. To do well but never forget to do good. That was my experience and that is why Appalachian students should find their way to the Department of History.
Q: What aspects of your Appalachian experience best prepared you for law school and later accomplishments?
A: I am a first-generation college student. Getting a college degree was a big deal, much less going to law school.
So when I came to Appalachian, I came with a healthy dose of fear, fear of failure. I didn&rsquot know whether I had the “right stuff” to make it, much less excel.
Well, Appalachian offered so many opportunities to explore, discover, sample, do, participate, challenge, learn, struggle, question…that is the wonder of a university. The Appalachian environment has created what those of us who are the beneficiaries of that environment call, the Appalachian Experience. It is unique to each person, but there is also a commonality. For me, Appalachian gave me confidence that I could do anything, anything I wanted to do and my experience gave me the requisite tools to accomplish whatever I wanted to accomplish. Now you have to keep sharpening the tools, and acquire new ones throughout life, but the foundation never changes. Appalachian provided me with an excellent foundation.
Q: Where there particular leadership opportunities that were helpful to you? If so, why should today’s students consider getting involved on campus?
A: Everyone should find the avenues of service and leadership that works for them, so it is different for each individual. This is what worked for me: my fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha (unfortunately no longer on campus); Student Government Association, where I served as Sophomore Class President and SGA Attorney General; Phi Alpha Theta, history honor society; International Relations Club, where I participated in Model UN competitions; and many others. The point is, find your place of service and leadership and then engage, authentically and genuinely. Don’t do something just for resume building. Do it because you care, because you enjoy it, because you want to make a difference, because you have a purpose. That’s the essence of leadership.
“I am confident (today’s faculty) are doing for their students what was done for me – stretching my mind while inspiring my heart. Building confidence and intellectual strength. Shaping a life of purpose.”