By Saga Norrby
— “We can do this…”, Gerrol Hoogvliets said and put his hands at the sides of his eyes, creating blinds on himself, “…and follow our own road, not looking back, not looking around us. I never do that. I always look around me. I always see what’s happening. That’s why my colours are working with me. I see things in colours. You know, life right now, your colour is red, green and blue, so you’re happy, your aura is good, your aura is clean. Maybe tomorrow you’ll be grey. I can see that and I will come to you and ask, ‘Hey, what’s bothering you today?’”
But Hoogvliets will not be seeing my aura anymore, because he has left Amsterdam University College (AUC). On his last day I tried to treat him to a cup of coffee. He insisted on treating me instead, and when the cups of cappuccino were handed to us he said, “You should have this one, it’s the fullest.”
Hoogvliets started working for AUC around the time it moved into the current Academic Building (AB) in 2012. He has now left to be the housemaster of another institution, one of the Regionaal Opleidingencentrum van Amsterdam (ROCvA) high schools – a sister school to the one where his son and daughter are students. Why? Because he needs a new challenge, he said.
Hoogvliets was born in 1961 in Suriname, and was raised on Aruba. He joined his brother in Boston, the United States, to study when he was 19, but since it was “icy icy icy cold” there, he dropped everything and moved to the Netherlands to join the army. Another brother and a sister of his had come to live here before him. His work for the army did not last long, but what did was his later employment at Neville Chemical Europe – he worked there for 21 years, taking care of the facility. After all those years, the company could not afford him anymore and he was laid off. It was then that the housemaster chapter began for Hoogvliets. AUC is the third school he has worked for.
Many students of AUC may never have spoken with Hoogvliets, but as Irene Willems, second-year Social Science major, they might remember seeing him singing around the AB. Hoogvliets himself credits the students for his happy demeanour. “You guys are so warm, and so kind – why wouldn’t I walk around like this? I mean, it’s a nice building, you guys are beautiful, wonderful, so – here I am,” he said.
Some of the students who have spent more time at the AB than most others, such as members of past and present Student Association and Student Council boards, developed more personal bonds with Hoogvliets. “Me and Gerrol were really good buddies,” said Noa Smits, second-year Science major and current board member of AUCSA. “He used to come and put his arm around my shoulders, and with other older men I’d normally not like that, but he’s just so homey, kind and wise.”
Hoogvliets himself acknowledged the importance of lending an ear to students. “Sometimes I can feel that I need to go there and talk to that person, you know, it’s something in life. The last years here I’ve had a lot of students that I’ve just approached and talked to and they’ve started crying,” Hoogvliets said. By the sound of it, his emotional awareness is innate, something he has simply had to embrace. He said, “I will never pressure you to talk, it will come by itself. It happens a lot. Sometimes I close myself to it, but I can’t. Sometimes I turn my back to it, but I can’t. It just happens. So, OK, bring it over.”
Hoogvliets’ way of reaching out to students has earned him more than one buddy. “Gerrol is quite honestly one of my best friends at AUC,” said Ellen Ackroyd, third-year Social Science major and previous member of the Student Council. “When you get to know Gerrol, he really listens to you, he gives you advice (in my case he told me to straighten my posture and be proud of my presence). But he also has the amazing ability to connect people together and once that initial contact is established and a relationship flourishes, he steps away. He is able to create beautiful beginnings but allows people to become the writers in the storytelling process. I think it is an incredible strength to be able to do that.”
While Hoogvliets may be “sorely missed”, as put by Louise Ten Bosch, third-year Social Science major and current board member of AUCSA, the AUC community has no reason to worry about him; he knows where he is going, as he always has.
“I’ve never felt lost, no, I’m always blessed,” Hoogvliets said. “Why feel lost? We’re life.”