The Ultimate Ride

The Ultimate Ride

Joe Milligan, College of Charleston

In November 2002, dozens of surfers paddled out into the Florida waves to honor Joe Milligan, who had died in a terrorist bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, a month earlier. Milligan was a daredevil and surf enthusiast of the highest order, and, as the ocean full of bobbing surfers proved, a man never wanting for friends. He died while celebrating his recent graduation from Bond University in Australia, which followed three years at the College (where he often surfed at Folly Beach).

This past fall, 10 years after Milligan’s death, his family and friends organized another paddle-out at the Milligan family beach house in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. They gathered to remember a son, a brother and a buddy who seemed to have a thousand best friends spread across the globe. They remembered an adventurer who fell in love with Australia while studying there, and who was fond of telling his loved ones his personal motto: “It’s OK to work hard – as long as you play harder.”

Beyond these gatherings, Milligan’s family and friends sought to honor him through the establishment of the Joe Milligan Scholarship, which helps College students study abroad in Milligan’s favorite place, Australia. Since its creation, at least half a dozen students have been helped while studying Down Under, with most of the students using the chance to go beyond the classroom and explore much of the continent. Among them is senior Molly Love, who studied at the University of Wollongong, south of Sydney, in spring 2012.

“To say I had an amazing time abroad is a serious understatement. It was the experience of a lifetime,” says Love, who channeled Milligan’s intrepid spirit by bungee jumping, camping in the Outback and diving at the Great Barrier Reef. “The scholarship money was a huge help and opened doors to many opportunities I never thought were possible. The bonds I made while abroad are untouchable.”

Joe Milligan, College of Charleston

Love particularly enjoyed being immersed in a number of business classes with Australian students. As an art minor, she also reveled in a course on Aboriginal arts and society. That education helped her more deeply appreciate the Aboriginal cave art she saw in the Australian Outback. Other unforgettable sights included monstrous crocodiles and termite mounds and the wildlife in the Great Barrier Reef, including clownfish, sea anemones and turtles.

“One of my favorite things, however, were the giant clams,” Love recalls. “They were colored with magnificent purples and blues and were absolutely ginormous.”

Sytske Hillenius ’12 used the Milligan Scholarship to travel to the University of Melbourne in 2010 and studied music, specifically the Baroque violin, conducting, music therapy and ethnomusicology. Hillenius, who is an accomplished violinist and fiddler, enjoyed the experience so much she returned to the University of Melbourne as a 2012 Fulbright postgraduate scholar and is now studying for a master’s in ethnomusicology, with her thesis focusing on bush dance music in Tasmania and the influence of Celtic folk music and traditions. As part of her research, Hillenius spent a summer living in Tasmania. She also made time in Australia to take many extended trips with a mountaineering club.

“I fell in love with the country,” Hillenius says.

These kinds of discoveries are exactly what the Milligan family and their friends had hoped would occur when they endowed the scholarship in Joe’s name. Joe Milligan was enchanted with Australia, and the Milligan family had always preached the importance of taking lessons from other cultures. Thus, the Milligan Scholarship encourages travel and promotes cross-cultural understanding.

“It helps students understand the globe is bigger than their backyard,” says Joe’s mother, Julie Milligan. “The more exposure you have to things, the more learning that occurs.”

Before his death, Joe Milligan experienced some of the best surfing of his life in Bali. Writing home to friends about the thrill of the waves, he could hardly capture his excitement in words: “Surfed out there two nights in a row on a full moon, just me and this classic Aussie kid. Overhead sets and just perfect moon-lit pits that spit you out into rippable walls. The morning sessions have been on too, not too crowded and just perfect. Mental sessions boys – they rank pretty highly.”

A short time later, he described one of the rides of his life: “The one freak barrel I mentioned was on the biggest and most lined up day of the trip, and everyone saw it ’cause I was out on the back and I free-fell so gnarly and barely pulled up into the beast, but only one guy saw me come out, this classic ripper Aussie guy that was toward the end of the point. He was freakin’ – he called it the barrel of the day by far, if not the barrel of the whole swell. No one would have believed that I came out if he didn’t see it ’cause I was so deep.”

A few days later Milligan was dead, one of 202 people from 22 countries killed by a string of bombings in Bali that were carried out by Islamic extremists. Though Milligan loved to surf, he had recently told his parents he was beginning to focus on other pursuits in life, including career options. They were excited to see his passion for adventure begin to merge with the responsibilities of life after college. Then he was gone. No more excited emails. No more phone calls.

In their place, however, have come enthusiastic letters from students like Love and Hillenius, who are grateful for the chance to see and study in Milligan’s favorite place. George and Julie Milligan are happy that their son’s spirit carries on through the adventures and education of each new College student that travels to Australia. Allowing more students to live and learn like Joe, they believe, is a great way to keep their son’s memory alive.

“There’s nothing Joe would have liked better,” Julie Milligan says, “than for other College students to ‘get out there and soak it all up!’”