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Jerry Bias ’86: Seeing the Opportunities

If you know Jerry Bias, it should come as no surprise that as an eighth grader at Middle River Junior High, without his mother knowing, he took the initiative to apply to McDonogh for high school. That act (fully supported by his mother when she found out) changed the course of his life. And while he readily admits, “McDonogh taught me how to think,” his drive comes from within. “There is no dream bigger than me,” he says. Bias arrived at McDonogh for orientation in the fall of 1982 wearing a black suit and a white leather tie. One of the first people he met was Rob Young who was dressed in yellow corduroy pants with whales on them. “I’d never seen anything like it. And he’d never seen anything like me,” Bias laughs at the memory. To this day, the two are best friends. Bias tells the story to illustrate one of the most important lessons he learned at McDonogh—to see the opportunities, go beyond the boundaries you set for yourself, and understand that you can be whatever you want to be in life.

Over the next four years, Bias took advantage of every opportunity McDonogh had to offer. “McDonogh showed me a lot of life that I was unaware of and allowed me to participate,” he says. “I realized that if you put in the work, you are going to get the reward.” In the classroom, he worked hard to get up to speed and accepted the challenges from his teachers to do better. He played tuba in the jazz band, ran track, played basketball and a little soccer, was the head of the Black Awareness Club, and served as vice president of the student body. Bias says he enjoyed being involved in the McDonogh community and that he used his leadership skills not just to help but to learn. “Leadership is not just to show what you know, but to be able to listen and receive so that everybody gets better,” he says.

As a full-time boarder, Bias quickly made friends with people from many different backgrounds—an eye-opening experience for a student still connected to his West Baltimore roots. “When you live with people, friendship is automatic,” he says, noting, “The boarding community at the time was the source of diversity at McDonogh.”

The value of diversity in all its forms was not lost on Bias. Chosen by his classmates to be the 1986 Commencement speaker, he addressed his appreciation for the diversity of their class in his speech. He recalls, “If you looked at our class, we had sprinkles of color, but we also had socio-economic diversity and diversity of mindset. We had a really rich class. We had all this diversity and we put it together to do some really interesting things. It wasn’t just on the sports field. We had intellectual diversity.”

After McDonogh, Bias went to the University of Virginia where he studied business and continued to take on leadership roles in student organizations. He then had a successful career on Wall Street and later founded Wisdom Oak Winery in Virginia. All the while, he kept in touch with his alma mater. He says McDonogh instilled in everyone, not just scholarship students, the idea that “we stand on other people’s shoulders.” He took that to mean, “When you go out into the world and create successes, bring them back and share them with other students.” In 2004, he established the Jerry Bias Scholarship. He says it was important for him to give when he had the means to do so. “I want people to have as good of or even better experience than I had at McDonogh.”

Bias adds that his support of scholarship is meaningful because it feels like his journey keeps going. “There was someone in front of me. Someone who said, ‘We want diversity on this campus.’ For me to be in the position to perpetuate that is great. We want to constantly enrich the McDonogh community. That’s the true meaning of the McDonogh Family.”

Today, Bias lives in Charleston, SC, with his wife and children. His most recent endeavor is Port Royal Coffee, a roasting and distribution business.

This article was published in the winter 2021 issue of McDonogh Magazine.