What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson is an interest that I found in common with this week's Northwest Indiana Life in the Spotlight: Michael Griffin, Clerk-Treasurer of the Town of Highland, and he was a delight to talk to during our interview.
Born in East Chicago and raised in Highland, Indiana, Griffin made his way through the Highland School System and moved on to Indiana University where he majored in Political Science and Religious Studies. His Masters in Public Managament came from Indiana University Northwest.
"My goal was to go to West Point," Griffin said. "I was in ROTC all throughout high school. I had severe asthma but I was very active anyway. Newly active in 1977 was our Congressman Adam Benjamin and he had a slot open. It was my dream to attend the military academy and I wanted to be a military person who was in a diplomatic post; someone who was trained in war who was an advocate for peace. I liked the paradox of that."
Griffin was a great student and he got the recommendation from the Congressman. The only thing that got in his way was his asthma. During the physical test to get into West Point he collapsed from an asthma attack. So that plan became a wash and Griffin was pretty devastated. But a plan was in motion, unbeknownst to Griffin, and Congressman Benjamin became impressed with his efforts and offered him an internship in his office after he completed his sophomore year of college. He never forgot the offer, and when his sophomore year of college came to a close, Griffin snagged the internship and thus began his journey in public service.
"It was the best summer I had experienced thus far," Griffin said. "I got a lot of confidence and met some wonderful people and learned quite a bit."
Griffin was in youth ministry for over five years in the First Church of God out of Anderson and he was a candidate for ordination. He also worked at the Highland Parks and Recreation Department. He loved teaching his students and still keeps in touch with some of them. Pretty soon, two phone calls from Congressman Pete Visclosky's office would set him on a new direction.
"I got a phone call from the now Congressman's office and I was offered a position as a case worker," Griffin said. "And I turned him down. I didn't feel done where I was at...six months later he called again and offered me another job. It was better pay, a different set of responsibilities, and he said not to tell him 'no'. And I knew that lightning doesn't strike twice in one place so I took the job."
As the Congressman's newly appointed Field Coordinator, Griffin answered to the Congressman directly. He realized then that everything that he had done in life had been to prepare him for that point in his life. One of his responsibilities was to staff the Board that he actually sat in front of when he was being considered for West Point.
"I like to tell my students that nothing that you do in life is a waste," Griffin said. "I say that you will discover at different parts of your life that all those paths that you took are never wasted and they sometimes come together."
This position lead to the opportunity for Griffin to become the Clerk-Treasurer for Highland. He thought it would be a perfect fit and he ran in 1991 and won by a 60% vote and has held the position ever since. He is currently in his 6th term as the Clerk-Treasurer.
"Ever since then it's been serendipity," Griffin said.
Griffin is very involved in his community and beyond. He's on the Board of Directors for the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns (IACT), the past-president of the Professional Association of the Indiana League of Municipal Clerks and Treasurers, a staff aid to the Congressman Visclosky, an adjunct instructor at IUN, he serves on the NWI Regional Planning Commission, he's on the Board of Governors - Society of Innovation, and the list goes on extensively.
For all of the work that he has done and all of the initiatives that he is involved in, Griffin was recognized multiple times. A few of those recognitions and awards include: the Distinguished Leadership Award from the Indiana Leadership Association, the Dunes Crest Award from the South Shore Leadership Center, the Russell J. Lloyd Distinguished Service Award from the IACT, as well as the Financial Management Award for Excellence in Municipal Finance from the IACT.
The most important award for Griffin would have to be is family. He and his wife, Christy, have an adorable five-year-old daughter named Abigail. Like any proud dad, he couldn't resist showing off her picture to me.
Someone so successful and accomplished must have some words of wisdom that he wishes to pass on to readers who are looking to public life and just be happy on their journey through their own lives.
"You need to know who you are before you get into public life. You will get battered a bit and there will be constant attempts to alter your course," Griffin said. "Let yourself serve and don't be afraid to enjoy it. People would ask me all the time how I was doing in my position and I would answer honestly that I love it. And that made them happy."