One of the most difficult decisions for a high school student is deciding what direction to go after graduation. Do you go to a four year or two year college? Trade school? Military? Straight to work? Sometimes, students need a push in the right direction and one woman in Carroll County decided to do just that for the students at J.Z. George High School.
Flora Stigler, a former educator with the Carroll County School District and a concerned citizen, organized a career day for students. She said she wanted to do something to push students to their greatness.
“I wanted to encourage them,” Stigler said. “I want them to know that they can do better if they put their minds to it. I’m concerned about children. I taught here, know what they can do. But, they’re lazy. I want them to get focused on their future so they can become successful. That’s all I want. I’m always happy to see them do better.”
Several successful citizens of Carroll County, many of whom Stigler taught, came and spoke with students about how they started out and what steps they took to get to where they are today.
Speakers for the event were:
Norwood was a basketball player with the National Basketball Association from 1969 to 1977. He was a second-round draft pick in 1969 to the Detroit Pistons. Along with the Pistons, he played with the Seattle Supersonics and Portland Trail Blazers.
“I’m so proud to come back and share my story,” Norwood said. “I’m the first professional basketball player from Carroll County, and I’m so fortunate.”
He said growing up, he didn’t have a basketball court, and he learned how to play in the dirt with a goal. “My parents weren’t with me on the basketball court, but I carried them with me. When I left Marshall High School I was determined to make it.”
He told students that he didn’t even know he was supposed to go to class while attending college, he just knew he had to sign his name. Norwood told students that he never forgot the training that he received in Carroll County and of how he also played in the European League for 18 months. He’s now the president of the Retired Basketball Players Association.
“If I can make it, you can make it,” Norwood said.
Percy Norwood retired as a captain in the United States Coast Guard where he served for 30 years. Before retiring, he held the rank as commanding officer of Coast Guard Headquarters Support Command, commanding officer of Coast Guard Headquarters Staff, and executive officer of Coast Guard Headquarters. He also held the rank of director of the Coast Guard and is responsible for diversifying the officers in the Coast Guard.
“I was the smallest of the Norwood boys,” Percy Norwood said. “But, I was the smartest.”
Percy Norwood said he graduated first in his class. He said he went to Alcorn, then Tuskegee to earn his master’s degree. He then went back to Alcorn to begin teaching. During that time, the draft was underway, and Percy Norwood said he was doing everything in his power to dodge it.
Until a coworker suggested that he look into the Coast Guard. After enlisting and going through training, he became an aircraft electrician.
“And I could run those wire through that plane like nobody’s business,” Percy Norwood said.
From there, he worked his way up the ranks and was chosen as one to integrate the officer group in the Coast Guard.
“There were 18 black officers out of some 3,500 officers. Fifteen got out, and there were only three left and we were some radicals.”
He continued to work his way up the ranks until he became captain and had many different hats. Norwood said he spent 30 years in the Coast Guard.
“It was a great career, and you can do the same thing but you have to get your lessons and stick to it,” Percy Norwood said.
Joe Moore is the owner of Moore Heating and Air Conditioning. He said when he got out of school he didn’t know what he wanted to do, and after working several odd jobs, it led him to Mississippi Delta Community College where he majored in heating and air conditioning.
He encouraged students to decide what it is they wanted in life and stick with it. Also he said they should respect those in authority over them.
“You have to respect your teachers,” Moore said. “And that goes for in your classroom and out of your classroom. If not, you’re not going very far.”
Louise McCaskill is the postal manager for Carrollton, North Carrollton and Coila post offices.
McCaskill said, growing up, she carried a book with her everywhere she went, and while others were doing other things, she was reading.
“I was never impatient,” she said.
McCaskill encouraged students to take the time to read.
“It’ll put you way further ahead,” she said.
She told students that if they follow the rules and put God first, their character will speak for itself. “Respect your teachers and your parents,” she said. “People are watching you when you don’t think they’re watching you.”
Robert Polk, an alum and the current mayor of Vernon, Ill., said he worked at a steel mill in Vernon for 42 years and later decided to get involved with the community.
“In 2001, I ran for trustee and I won,” he said. “And later, I ran for mayor, and I’m the current mayor of Vernon, Ill. I’ve been the mayor for 14 years.”
Polk told students that when they are moving up the corporate ladder, they should learn in the process. “Listen to your teachers, they know a little bit more than you do,” he said.
Howard Branch worked for NASA for 33 years where he retired as assistant division chief. Born in Coila, he also graduated at the top of his class. After graduation, he went to Mississippi Valley State University and later received a master’s degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C.
“I’ll never disown where I’m from, I’m from Carroll County,” he said.
Branch told students to always plan their growth.
“How you prepare? Stay out of trouble…social media is a big thing, if you don’t want your parent to know you’re posting, stop it. Think before you post. Take one of those college test, take a pre-prep. Don’t wander in there one Saturday, and you haven’t prepared. And then, graduate from high school. Tell yourself you want to graduate, you need to graduate. College is not for everybody.”
He said they should also do things like apply for unpaid internships and other things that will make them stand out to employers.
LaPorsha Smith, a pharmacist at CVS Pharmacy in Greenwood, said she’d never had anyone in her family become a pharmacist, but after a trip to tour Ole Miss’s pharmacy school she knew what she wanted to do.
“They’ve all talked about a common theme, perseverance. They’ve all overcame different obstacles, but they made it. It doesn’t matter your age, gender, race, social status, you’re going to go through some difficult times. But, you’ve going to overcome them.”
She left them with 2 Chronicles 15:7 “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”
The last two to speakers were Pam Kelly Williams and Trina Williams Boyd, both attorneys, Kelly Williams had a career in radio before she decided to take up a second career in law. In the process she was married and then divorced and had to go through law school while being a mom and dealing with her divorce.
Williams Boyd works for the Desoto County Circuit Courts and is the city attorney for the City of Coldwater. Both encouraged students to go after their dreams.
“I got my degree in Mass Communication with an emphasis in Public Relations,” Kelly Williams said. “For three years, I worked in radio. Then, I moved to Memphis, and I worked in radio in Memphis. I had a great time, and I met many celebrities, but I wanted to do something else so I decided to become a lawyer.”
She said got her law degree, but she put off practicing law and chose to raise her children, but once she raised them, she picked back up where she left off. She left the students with a question to answer.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m grateful for what I have received from Carroll County,” Williams Boyd said. “What you do now, matters for the rest of your lives. What you do right now, will have an everlasting impact. Be mindful of what you’re doing and how you treat others. We want you to reach your fullest potential and we are proud of you.”