Diversity speaker gives inspiration to WKU

Quiche Matchen

WKU has had its fair share of motivational speakers, and the most recent speaker brought by the Office of Diversity Programs was no exception.

Steve Pemberton, Walgreen’s Diversity Officer, spoke in the Downing University Center auditorium on Thursday.

At the event, Pemberton talked about his life as an orphan.

“Not an hour goes by that I don’t think about my past experiences,” he said.

Pemberton said he knew what he wanted out of life at a young age. For 11 years, he was in foster care, starving and being beaten.

“I dealt with it every day,” he said.

Pemberton said he knew that he had to get out and he knew he was going to go to college, but when he told his foster parents about his dreams they doubted him. He knew that if he didn’t leave, he would die there.

“When you have a vision, whatever it is, no one has the right to judge that because it’s yours,” he said.

Pemberton encouraged students to surround themselves with people that have the same morals and values that they have.

“There are times that you have to bump people off your road because they’re not willing to be a part of the narrative of your story,” he said. “Every time you try to take a step forward, people are going to make a judgment or decision to tell you what you can’t do.”

He said when people tell him he can’t do something, he gives it his full potential. When he was in school, Pemberton said his guidance counselor told him he wouldn’t get accepted into one of the best colleges, and he did.

Then the counselor then told him that he wouldn’t be able to afford it, and he got a full-ride scholarship.

He was also told he didn’t have what it takes academically to make it in college.

Pemberton said when he started college he wondered if he could hang with the other students, but then after a while he wondered if they “could keep up” with him.

The hunger and drive that he had to get to college and stay there made him more focused.

“We’re all inheritors; we all came to this world with something,” he said. “Everything you do, whether you like it or not, is a path.”

Pemberton said he doesn’t want people to think he’s superman.

“Please don’t walk away thinking somehow that I’m extraordinary or special; I am not, I’m just old and I’m not nearly as beautiful as you are,” he said.

“We focus on other people’s greatness and not our own. Find out what your greatness is.”

Overall, those in attendance were moved and pleased with Pemberton’s lecture, especially Andrea Garr-Barnes, Office of Diversity Programs director.

“Anyone humble enough to share their story for the benefit of others and said he’s nothing special is truly great,” she said.

Dayton, Ohio sophomore Whitney Marsh said she enjoyed Pemberton’s lecture and was a part of his coalition book circle.

“He was the best speaker that WKU has brought other than Hill Harper,” she said. “I like how he focused on personal accountability.”

Pemberton also encouraged the audience to use their stories to inspire others.

“Tell your story, there are young people that are in the situation that I was in or the one you’re in and they need to hear from you,” he said. “So they can walk away saying well, he did it and she did it so I can do it.”