Claflin Students Encouraged to Build a Strong Foundation to Achieve Their Goals in Spring Convocation Day Speech by Brigadier General Twanda Young
Jan 26, 2018
Brigadier General Twanda Young spoke passionately about being the first family member to earn a college degree, her distinguished military career, and how her experiences at Claflin University shaped her philosophy on leadership in her keynote message at Claflin’s 148th Spring Convocation on Thursday (Jan. 25) in the Jonas T. Kennedy Health and Physical Education Center. The annual convocation serves as the official start of the Spring academic semester.
"To do anything of value, one must have a great foundation," said Young who graduated from Claflin in 1989 with a bachelor's degree in English. "The summer before I enrolled at Claflin, I worked in the tobacco and cotton fields in my hometown of Darlington, S.C."
Young said her mother was a proud but wise woman who wanted her to learn the lessons of "honest, hard work" before she went away to college. Young received a scholarship to attend Claflin and she was the first in her family to attend college.
"It was a big deal," Young said. "But that summer I learned invaluable life lessons about the importance of having good character. My job was to hoe grass that grew around cotton. My mother noticed one day that I missed some spots and left some holes. She asked me why I did not do the job I was getting paid for? My response was that no one would see it. But she answered back that you would know – and that’s what matters."
It was at this time, Young recalled, she made a decision that laid the foundation that would guide her through life.
"I made a decision to be a person of my word – that I would be counted on to do what I said I was going to do -- even when no one was looking," Young said. "I had my own internal standards to do the right thing.”
Young participated in the Army ROTC program at Claflin University through the cross-enrollment agreement with South Carolina State University. She was the first female commissioned from the ROTC program to earn the rank of Brigadier General. Young now serves as the deputy commanding general, U.S. Army Human Resources Command at Fort Knox. She earned two master's degrees from Ball State University and another master’s from the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa.
"The college experience is unique," Young said. "Claflin takes an intense interest in not just your intellectual development, but in the character, integrity and visionary capacity of its students. I learned a lot at Claflin which cultivates visionary and transformative leaders who have the intellectual capacity to change the world."
Young's key assignments have included serving in command and staff positions in the continental United States and Hawaii with First Army, Joint Forces Command, and U.S. Army Reserve Command and in Afghanistan with NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (NTM-A/CSTC-A).
She was the recipient of the 2010 Order of the Saint Maurice presented by the 197th Infantry Brigade and the 2011 Horatio Gates Bronze medal by the Adjutant General Regiment. Her military awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and the Global War on Terrorism Service.
"I did not plan on a career in the military," Young said. "I was just happy to have a job because I did not want to go back home. But I learned to love being in the Army and I stayed with it. The Army has shaped my character, attitude and work ethic. My goal was not to become a general but to do the best job I could and learn my craft.”
Thirty years ago, it was practically unthinkable that a black female could rise to the rank of general in the U.S. Army. Young recalled the incident which defined and reinforced her self-confidence and reliance in her foundation when a battalion commander told her she had no right and there was no place for her in the Army.
"He had the choice to make the determination on my future in the Army, but not the authority he thought he had," said Young. "He did not understand that I possessed a foundation that was concrete, a solid character, focused attitude and a strong work ethic. What he said was devastating to hear from a commanding officer. But I held my composure and pulled from something deep within me. I told him I would be there when he retired. After that I called my mother for comfort. But she said it's time to grow-up. Just like in that cotton field, it was time for me to determine by whose standard I would be measured and how to deal with the obstacle standing in the way of me reaching my goals.”
Young said that years later, on the day of the commander’s retirement; she proudly gave him a firm handshake, thanked him for his service and wished him well as he began the next chapter of his life.
"That's my testimony,” she said to the students in the audience."Who will you be when you encounter challenges that can prevent you from achieving your goals. It's up to you to determine how you will handle these situations."
Claflin President Henry N. Tisdale said that Brigadier General Young is an example of the confident visionary leaders with character Claflin produces.
"She truly is a role model for our students,” he said while presenting Young with a Presidential Proclamation to celebrate her return to Claflin and in recognition of her outstanding accomplishments.
"Visionary leaders are accountable for their actions and they are risk takers who own the outcome of their success or failures," said Young. "To the students at Claflin, you have reached an important moment in your lives. You are at a place whose purpose is helping you reach your God-given potential. What you do with it is up to you. You hold the essence of the future of our nation in your hands. As visionary leaders of the 21st century, be yourselves, be humble and the world will be a better place for it."