Ronald Williams, Jr. wanted the world to see him participate in Winston-Salem State University’s Fall 2010 Commencement exercises Dec. 17 at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, because he felt it was the perfect occasion to exemplify his purpose in life.
Williams, 30, was one of more than 500 undergraduate and graduate students who participated in WSSU’s Fall Commencement exercises. Dr. Clifford A. Jones, Sr., senior pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte and community activist in race relations and education delivered the keynote address for the event.
Jones summed up the point of his message to the graduates with just one word — confidence. “Thank God for the degree, but if all you have is a piece of paper and no confidence, you are handicapped,” said Jones.
His message of hope, uplift and perseverance was not lost on Williams, his classmates or the more than 6,000 family and friends attending the ceremony.
Because his march to a degree had been a long challenging process, Williams believes he stands as an example for perseverance and determination.
“I am a testament that whenever in a negative situation, you can’t let it dictate your future,” said Williams. “Even when people tell you that you can’t or you never will, if you believe and have faith there will be a way.”
Born legally blind, a belief and faith in himself and a higher power is why he feels was able to get through college. With no iris in either eye, he was told he would never see. He was also told he would never be able to do a lot of things. If he were ever able to work, he could only do a few limited types of jobs — if anyone would ever hire him. Others would remind him that he could never move away from his small town of Colerain, NC, or go to college, graduate or have a successful career.
In addition to being legally blind, Williams was run over by a car one Fall evening in 2005 while he was a freshman at WSSU and he was left for dead in a nearby gutter. Sanitation workers found him the next day while cleaning up debris from the accident. He had two broken legs and was paralyzed. Doctors thought he might die and when he didn’t, they told Williams he would never walk again. He never gave up on his dream and belief he could finish college. He took off from school to receive several needed surgeries to recover, but returned to WSSU about a year later when, miraculously, he regained his ability to walk again.
As people learned about his story and disability, he received assistance from WSSU administrators, faculty, staff and other students. Despite several more surgeries and time off, he progressed through his matriculation.
“A funny thing happened. I noticed people were paying close attention to me and encouraging me to continue with my education. They began to tell me they believed in me. They started telling me they were inspired by me. I started to realize I stood for something bigger than myself. I was no longer doing this for myself. I started believing my purpose was to achieve and encourage, despite insurmountable odds. I worked hard to not let others down,” Williams said.
Given his challenges, his history and his belief in his purpose, Williams, a business management major, wants to own a medical clinic in the future so he can make a difference in others’ lives.
“I had every reason and opportunity to give up and just stop, but I didn’t and I can’t now that I have my degree,” he said. “Whatever you do you can make it. You have to put your heart and mind into it and things will happen for you. I must encourage others.“
Graduate with the most regained focus.
Another graduate who understands beating the odds is Charles Hicks, 28. After being enrolled at WSSU for several years, changing majors, and sacrificing in other areas of his life, Hicks has been persistent in his commitment to education and especially to WSSU’s Real Men Teach (RMT), a program designed to support and increase the number of male students interested in majoring in teacher education. Through RMT, male pre-service teachers gain a heightened visibility and preparation as teacher leaders and serve as Ambassadors for teacher education. In Hicks’ case, the leadership exposure really had an effect.
Because of his growth and dedicated commitment to teaching, WSSU faculty members began recommending him for leadership and for distinguished teacher training programs around the country. He has participated in such programs in California, Texas, New York and Georgia.
It wasn’t always easy for Hicks who had a rocky start in college. He began at WSSU in 2001. Within two years he had dropped out. The Fayetteville, NC native didn’t want to leave the Winston-Salem area because he thought he would never return to college. He took odd jobs and returned in 2006 as a non-traditional student. Since that time, his regained focus has led to positive notice among the WSSU School of Educational and Human Performance faculty.
According to Holly Pitts, WSSU RMT project coordinator, “he (Hicks) has made all who work with him proud. Even his family members and friends speak highly about the responsible, charismatic, loving nature he demonstrates, consistently.”
Hicks was the only graduate of WSSU’s School of Education and Human Performance this semester. He is currently interviewing for jobs in the North East U.S. region.