May 13, 2016 – Fort Valley State University recently celebrated the golden anniversary of an event created to mentor the next generation of students entering into their career paths. The university held the 50th Ralph P. Malone Youth Motivation Task Force recently in the C.W. Pettigrew Center.
During this year’s conference, entrepreneurs and executives visited classrooms to speak students about how they found professional success.
The highlight of this year’s event was the special assembly program.
Fort Valley Mayor Barbara Williams, who is a 1971 Fort Valley State alumna, spoke about the life of Ralph Malone. Williams worked as a student worker for Malone, who served as FVSU’s Director of Career Placement. She said that Malone went above the call of study when helping his students. In 1967, Malone started the conference to inspire the university’s students to pursue professional career paths. He brought back former, successful alums who spoke about their real world jobs.
Malone passed away in 1988. Four years later, the event was renamed the Ralph P. Malone Youth Motivation Task Force in his honor.
“This task force is named for a man that inspired a lot of us,” Williams said. She told that audience that Malone was responsible for helping her obtain her first job after college. “He set up my first interview in Atlanta.”
After a recognition of the Ralph Malone’s family by the 201 Ralph Malone Youth Motivation Task Force Chair Lemeul Horton, Courtney Lester, Mr. FVSU 2015-2016, introduced keynote speaker Michael L. Thurmond.
Thurmond is the counselor to the Butler, Wooten, Cheeley and Peak law firm was the keynote speaker for the event. Thurmond is the former superintendent of the DeKalb County School District, the third largest one in the state of Georgia. The district serves more than 100,000 people. Before his speech, Thurmond climbed down from the podium to connect with students directly.
Thurmond grew up as a sharecropper’s son. The attorney told students he had an outhouse growing up with no running water. He went to college when the tuition was $1,750. Thurmond said that he didn’t have all the money he needed to attend Paine College. Thurmond met with the financial aid officer who helped get Thurmond a work study job washing dishes in the school’s cafeteria. He said all the pretty girls came by, watching him wash dishes, which embarrassed him.
Thurmond asked the financial aid officer for another job. The financial officer complied, getting Thurmond a job cleaning toilets in the student dormitory bathrooms.
“No matter where you are, if God has a blessing of you, he’ll find you.” Thurmond told students.
One day he was working at his work study job, when the Student Government Association president walked in, exclaiming that as the SGA president, all that he had to do was to get a check and work as the president. After overhearing him, Thurmond did everything he could to become the campus’ SGA president. It also inspired him to enter into the political realm. Thurmond earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religion from Paine, and later a Juris Doctorate Degree from the University of South Carolina’s School of Law. He also completed a political executives program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
In addition to speaking about his college life, Thurmond talked about his time in politics. He reminded students not to jump to conclusions when search for the support for others, because their differences or beliefs may not be based on racism. He encouraged students to always pursue their dreams.
After Thurmond’s speech, he received a standing ovation. A representative from his fraternity and Dr. Romelda Simmons, director of Career and Alumni Services, awarded Thurmond a special gift in appreciation for his speech at the assembly.
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