When hundreds of students from across the nation gathered to network with executives from some of America’s largest corporations, few expected to encounter the U.S. Marines.
The 2016 Thurgood Marshall College Fund Leadership Institute’s mission helps students from across the nation make connections that lead to careers. The Marine Corps’ mission during the TMCF event is to connect to and interact with a large pool of future leaders.
“Thurgood Marshall College Fund invites young qualified students and places Marines in a more intimate environment to tell them our story,” said Master Sgt. Damian D. Cason, the diversity chief for the Office of Diversity at Marine Corps Recruiting Command. “This partnership speaks volumes to diverse organizations and students, and we are resonating with the demographics we support. Marines who attend these events are doing the work that the commercials and advertisements can’t.”
The TMCF opened with an evening reception at the Washington Hilton, Nov. 18. Throughout the event, Marines took part in interactive leadership panels, hosted a morning workout and participated in several workshops.
While speaking during the panels, Marines sat with CEOs, executives and directors, exchanging stories and sharing their experiences with the TMCF attendees.
“I wanted to impart the knowledge I gained throughout my journey, and let students know that it’s okay to learn from both failure and success,” said Capt. Salah E. Ali, the staff judge advocate for the Wounded Warrior Regiment aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico. “At the end of the day, we are adding a very human element to the Marine Corps for these young students. It’s not a recruiting commercial with a Marine flashing a sword; there is a man in a uniform talking to them about their future.”
Marines condition themselves physically and mentally to strengthen their character, something students had a glimpse of throughout the following day.
By 6 a.m., students’ hearts raced as they exercised with Marines during a circuit-based workout. Challenged physically from the morning, collegians had to face their fear of public speaking at the storytelling workshop. It taught attendees how to tell their life story in 30 seconds and how to sell their ‘brand’ to employers, for job-interviewing purposes. Later on, they had to break through mental barriers with the problem solving workshop, which had several puzzling stations designed to teach students how vital communication is while working with groups of people.
“The workout was great this morning—very intense though,” said Bria Perkins, a student at Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville (NCFSU), N.C. “Altogether, the workshops taught me to embrace the skills I have and how to sell myself—my brand—but not sell myself short. They really opened my eyes to the possibilities in the Marine Corps.”
Marine leaders, influencers and students gathered together for the 28th Annual Grand Gala on the last night of the TMCF to recap the events, and to congratulate them on their decisions toward brighter futures, Nov. 21. Attendees spoke to Marines and a select few had the opportunity to dine with them, including Perkins and Jermaine E. Cherry.
“I wasn’t interested at all in the military growing up,” said Cherry, a student at NCFSU. “All in the course of one weekend, my train of thought has gone from not considering the military at all, to if I am going to get any experience in the military, I am going get it in with the best.”
Throughout TMCF, Marines emphasized that leadership is unique to a single person, and that everyone is capable of being a great leader. In the Corps, you earn the title Marine, but every Marine learns how to lead by following; lessons taught shape younger generations to so they can lead the next set of Marines.
The partnership between the Marines and TMCF allows the Corps to give back to important communities while continuing its three main missions: making Marines, winning battles and returning quality citizens back to America.
“The Corps finds its Marines in many different places, and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund is one of the great places to find them,” said Col. Anthony M. Henderson, the commanding officer for the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard MCB Camp Pendleton, California. “However, we don’t come here to recruit students to make them Marines. Once they make that decision to join, then we take that challenge. We come to engage with students and let the American people know who we are as Marines, which is important to us because we are from these same communities.”