From Sharecropper's Daughter to College President

My mother used to say, “As the twig is bent, the tree shall grow.” I believe that Ruth Simmons, once president of the highly-prestigious Smith College in Massachusetts, is the classic example of the truth of that statement. She is currently serving as President of Brown University. She is also the epitome of the American Dream and living proof that it is still alive and well in America. As a child, Ms. Simmons told one of her classmates that someday she would be the president of a college. This was a remarkable statement coming from the twelfth child of Texas sharecroppers. Little did she know that it would be the presidency of one of the most respected schools in the country. She is the first African American woman to head a top-ranked college or university. Since women presidents – and specifically African American female college presidents – are doubly rare, let’s explore what happened. Most success stories begin with the parents and in this particular case the emphasis is on the mother. She stressed the importance of character and moral fiber and “to value certain things with regard to the treatment of human beings.” Ms. Simmons then says, “I worked hard at everything I did, but I didn’t work hard because I was interested in good grades…or because I was looking for praise or enrichment, but because that is what I was taught.” Ross Campbell, M.D., says that 80% of a child’s character is formed by age five, and apparently Ms. Simmons’ character bears this out. The selection committee at Smith emphasized that Ms. Simmons wasn’t selected because she was an African American woman. Peter Rose, a member of the search committee, said, “We wanted to cast the widest possible net for the best possible person. It was the strength of this woman. Her very strong academic performance. The force of her personality.” Let me suggest that if you raise your children with strong moral values like the Simmons family did, you, too, may be nurturing a future college president! SEE YOU AT THE TOP!


A talented author and speaker, Zig Ziglar has an appeal that transcends barriers of age, culture, and occupation. Since 1970, he has traveled over five million miles across the world delivering powerful life improvement messages, cultivating the energy of change. Since 1970, an extensive array of Ziglar audio, video, books, and training manuals have been utilized by small businesses, Fortune 500 companies, U.S. Government agencies, churches, school districts, prisons, and non-profit associations...

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