Jackson calls on high-achieving students to demonstrate ‘courageous leadership’

Kwame Jackson, keynote speaker for WCU’s Chancellor’s List Awards Ceremony, takes part in a photo opportunity with students Tristan McCannell (left) and Christina Worth.

An entrepreneur who became nationally known for his appearances on NBC’s “The Apprentice” told a group of Western Carolina University students who excelled in their academic work last spring semester that they now need to rise to an even higher level and live with “courageous leadership.”

Kwame Jackson, a Charlotte native who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in that same area of study at the Harvard Business School, visited campus Tuesday (Sept. 19) to speak to students at the Chancellor’s List Awards Ceremony and Reception. The event was held at the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center to recognize 1,244 students earning chancellor’s list designation by recording GPAs of 3.8 or higher.

Jackson was a contestant 13 years ago on “The Apprentice,” which was hosted by current U.S. President Donald Trump. Aside from the show, Jackson’s professional experience includes sales and marketing roles at Proctor & Gamble and, most recently, a position on Wall Street as an investment manager for Goldman Sachs.

Jackson began his remarks by telling the students that he got his start in business like many of them. In the third grade, he began working as a “mobile sales associate,” selling candy on the school bus, and he later became an “architectural landscape artist” in the seventh grade as he mowed lawns to earn the $75 he needed to buy his first Nintendo system.

Jackson congratulated the students for the hard work they took on to make the chancellor’s list, but he told them, “I’m here to demand even more of you.” He said many people have been “shaken to the core” by events such as those that occurred recently in Charlottesville, Virginia, and he is in a “state of disbelief” over recent happenings.

“We’re living in the dawn of a new America,” Jackson said. “I would argue that, on this evening as we’re surrounding ourselves with excellence and bathing in the light of achievement, we are called upon to begin to exercise courageous leadership. We all know that with great talent comes great responsibility. We must use that courageous leadership to uplift one another, to unify one another and to make sure we are all walking on the same path. Unity is the end result of courageous leadership – a more perfect union of an aspiring national purpose.

“We’re all here to serve causes that are bigger than ourselves,” he said. “Courage is something that comes from within at that moment you need it most. You do what is right, when it’s right, because it’s right. That’s courageous leadership. Do what is right instead of following the well-worn path. Blaze a new and exciting trail into an unknown future. The world rewards those whose confidence and courage stand out from the rest.”

In her remarks to the students, WCU Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar said they represent every academic discipline at the university and each student has “a unique and remarkable story.” “You are a chancellor’s list recipient for spring of 2017, and you should be very proud,” Morrison-Shetlar said.

She urged the students to strive to be well-rounded and contributing citizens of the university and state. “I want each and every one of you to be a game-changer, a problem-solver, an inventor, a creator, a difference-maker. I want you to dream big, and I want you to work hard,” she said.