New alum Barber a role model for the ages

Marion Barber Jr.

Marion Barber Jr. strolls the hallways of Armstrong High School on the last day of the school year, imparting bits of encouragement to the students he passes before taking a seat on the gymnasium bleachers to share a bit of his story. He’s wearing a rubber bracelet that says “Knowledge Is Power,” and his ID badge swings from a maroon-and-gold lanyard with the football slogan “Brick by Brick.”

Barber starred for the Golden Gophers in the late 1970s, becoming the team’s all-time leader in rushing yardage and touchdowns before embarking on an NFL career and then a business career in the Twin Cities.  

But his most recent accomplishment is perhaps his most impressive. Barber literally came out of retirement to finish his education at the U. In mid-May, at the age of 57 and after two years of taking classes, he received his bachelor’s degree in youth studies from the U’s College of Education and Human Development.

He earned his degree in style, making the dean’s list and piling up mostly “A”s alongside students not even half his age.

At Armstrong, where he started as an intern, he revels in being a special education assistant and also an assistant coach for the football team. “I feel fulfilled every day,” he says, “and that’s what the youth studies program has done for me.”

Barber says he was humbled by everything surrounding his graduation, including the congratulations he received from friends and family as well as from strangers near and far. He was also the recipient of a few touchdowns’ worth of high-fives from the students at Armstrong the day before he received his diploma.

“I didn’t think it would have the kind of impact it had,” he says. “What that is doing for our students was, for me, very humbling. What better way to inspire our kids than to show them that you are capable of doing anything you want. It might take you a while—hopefully it won’t take as long as it took me—but you can achieve anything you set your mind to.”

For Barber, knowledge is indeed power, even if it took a few decades to put the last brick in place.