Billy Wayne Sherrill was in the eighth grade at Lanier Junior High School when he enrolled in the U.S. Marines in December of 1941. Two older brothers had already been drafted, the military strike against Pearl Harbor had mobilized thousands others, and Sherrill wasn’t about to wait until he was 17 for his turn.
All these years later, he downplays his motivation to be of service to his country. “I hated school,” Sherrill says, smiling. “I was an escapist, not a patriot.”
Sherrill, (’50), was also taking the first step of what he hoped would be a military career that would span decades.
Sherrill will forever be grateful for the series of events that led to an entirely different outcome. He went on to be the first in his family to earn a college degree and subsequently led a very successful professional life that included founding and running several companies, working with Judge Roy Hofheinz on Houston’s landmark Astrodome, and serving as the Director of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. With colleges and universities preparing for an influx of returning G.I’s who are expected to take advantage of a modernized G.I. Bill later this year, stories like Sherrill’s are a reminder of the huge potential these students hold. As in years past, the G.I. Bill will make a college education a reality for men and women, some of whom might otherwise have never looked to academia for help in pursuing their dreams.
No one in Sherrill’s family had gone to college, and there was no reason to think he was headed in that direction. Without educational opportunities afforded by the military, and without the University of Houston, it’s likely that Sherrill, founder of the top-ranked Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, would have led a very different life’s path.
Sherrill served in several major campaigns. “I should have been killed a hundred times,” he says. It was on Iwo Jima that Sherrill took a shot in the arm, sustaining nerve damage, and was sent to a naval hospital in Oakland, California. By then he’d decided to make the military a career, so it was devastating to hear he instead would have a medical discharge. Sherrill sunk into a deep depression. He hadn’t finished high school and had few marketable skills. At some point he decided his best hope was to work as a guard at a plant.
Fate intervened when, while in the hospital, he took a high school equivalency exam as a favor to the test administrator, who was looking for G.I.’s to fill her classes so she wouldn’t be transferred away from her boyfriend.
Sherrill’s scores in the top percentiles for U.S. students were a complete shock. “I was stunned. Nobody in my family went to school.” He was urged to apply to a college, and Sherrill picked UH. Several twists of fate later, Sherrill graduated from UH with a degree in business, and later, an MBA from Harvard University.
Are today’s higher education institutions ready to support returning Vets, and cognizant of the potential for exceptional students like Sherrill?
Some things about UH have changed since when he was a student. “It was far more local then,” he says.
Some things remain the same.
UH continues to attract many students who are the first in their family to attend college. “It is a welcoming university,” Sherrill says. And its location in a huge metropolitan city means the welcome mat now extends worldwide.
“UH offers returning vets the chance to join the only aristocracy this country has,” Sherrill says. “The educated.”
More on Bill Sherrill:
- Sherrill founded the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at Bauer College, rated the #1 college program for entrepreneurship in the country by The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine, in 1991. In 1994, he was named the Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year (Educator) in recognition of the excellence of the CEI model.
- He has held numerous offices with the Alumni Association, and has been a member of the Bauer College Advisory Council under three Deans, including current Dean Arthur Warga.
- Sherrill was president of his freshman, junior and senior classes, and was president of Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity his sophomore year, the year his Pledge Class obtained the first live Cougar mascot.
About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.
About the Bauer College of Business
The C.T. Bauer College of Business has been in operation for more than 60 years at the University of Houston main campus. Through its five academic departments, the college offers a full-range of undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees in business. The Bauer College is fully accredited by the AACSB International – the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. In August 2000, Houston business leader and philanthropist Charles T. (Ted) Bauer endowed the College of Business with a $40 million gift. In recognition of his generosity, the college was renamed the C.T. Bauer College of Business.