Coca-Cola executive speaks at Livingstone
By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
SALISBURY – In an uplifting speech by a man who demonstrates the past doesn’t have to dictate the future, a Coca-Cola Enterprises executive told Livingstone College students to aspire to be successful in ways that truly matter.
Winston-Salem native Kelly Fladger delivered Livingstone’s Fall Convocation address on Sept. 21 in a speech that included a warm thank you to his mother and a touching story about his son.
Fall convocation is held annually to celebrate the beginning of a new academic year and to serve as a rite of passage for freshmen. Last year’s convocation speaker was actress Kim Fields, famous for her role as Tootie on the NBC sitcom “The Facts of Life.”
Fladger, vice president of human resources and chief diversity officer for Coca-Cola Enterprises, didn’t arrive on campus with name recognition but engaged Livingstone students, faculty and staff nonetheless.
“I come to you humbly on this very important occasion,” said Fladger, whose responsibilities include developing and delivering the strategic execution of Coca-Cola Enterprises’ Diversity and Inclusion Strategy. “I come here representing my wife Monica and my children Kennedy and Kyle, Coca-Cola and the most high God.”
Minutes after taking the podium, Fladger told freshmen they will decide their futures. “You have a choice to spend the next four years working so you can play the rest of your life, or to spend the next four years playing so you can work the rest of your life.”
The students were attentive to Fladger, who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from The Citadel.
“I grew up in a single-parent home and was raised by my grandmother, sister and mother in public housing,” he said. “Like many of you I was the first in my family to go to college, and I did this despite all of the perceived odds stacked against me. Many of you come from broken homes with few resources … (but) those obstacles didn’t break you. They shaped you. It’s no coincidence that you’re here. You’re here for a reason.”
Before Fladger spoke, several people addressed the Varick audience, including Bishop George E. Battle Jr., who in July became chairman of the Livingstone College Board of Trustees and senior bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
“I’m so honored God has given me the opportunity to rise up from the tobacco patches of Rocky Mount to come back to my institution that I love,” Battle said. “I’m the child of prayer. I’m a student of Livingstone College.”
Dr. Carolyn W. Duncan, president of the faculty assembly, challenged students to ensure they succeed at Livingstone and in life. “What are you willing to pay for your education? It’s more than paying tuition. It’s a commitment to going to class and to completing those assignments…”
SGA President Dorian Edwards told freshmen their journey is beginning, encouraged sophomores to keep going, praised juniors for being halfway home and reminded seniors the finish line is in sight.
Miss Livingstone Brittany Thatcher told her classmates education is their passport to the future. After her remarks, College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins introduced Fladger, saying he received a football scholarship to attend college.
“He took advantage of that opportunity, an opportunity for him to demonstrate that coming from Winston-Salem had nothing to do with where he now stands,” Jenkins said. “He’s an example of an ordinary man doing extraordinary things. He’s a young man and has been married for 18 years, and that’s called tenacity. I’m honored today to have him speak here.”
Midway through his speech, Fladger shared a warm story about his mother, Betty Williamson, who attended with Fladger’s niece, Jessica Ijames.
“My mother worked several jobs to provide for my sister and me,” Fladger said. “One of those jobs was working in a cafeteria, and I would pray she wouldn’t get assigned to my school or that my friends wouldn’t recognize her when she worked at their school. I was embarrassed that she didn’t have a fancy job, but I wasn’t embarrassed when I was hungry, needed clothes or at Christmas.”
At his college graduation, Fladger said the president asked parents to refrain from applauding until all graduates’ names were called. Most people acquiesced, he said, until his name was called and his mother let out what he described as the most thunderous ‘Thank you, Jesus’ in Citadel history.
“See, I know my momma didn’t like her job, but she humbled herself because she had an obligation,” Fladger said. “Never let what someone does define who they are or the importance of their obligations. Books, poems, quotes and most anything can inspire you, but seek those living inspirations and living testimonies. And remember, you must humble yourself to be lifted up. Thank you, Jesus, for my momma.”
Williamson, who still lives in Winston-Salem, said she’s proud of her son’s accomplishments because “he’s worked hard to get where he is.”
As for the Citadel graduation, she said: “When he walked across that stage and Ted Turner shook his hand, I just couldn’t do anything but let out that ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ That’s all I could say.”
Fladger’s unabashed praise for his mother drew heavy applause. So did an anecdote about his 7-year-old son, Kyle, used to illustrate success doesn’t happen overnight.
For several weeks Kyle was disappointed over not receiving his football team’s “Beast of the Week” award, but instead of consoling him, Fladger encouraged him to work harder. After Kyle said he prayed to God because he wanted the award really bad, Fladger explained God works on His time.
Eventually Kyle won the award, which Fladger said made his heart leap. That day when Kyle got home he went outside to thank Jesus and God for his fortune. “As I was telling my son how God works, he was living it. As I was telling him to practice harder, he was practicing prayer and faith. My son inspired me that day.”
Fladger closed by cautioning students against coveting the wrong kind of success. He said as a young boy he dreamed of being successful and owning nice things, which he has done.
“I thought I had arrived,” Fladger said. “I had all I’d ever dreamed of and more, and it was killing me. It was killing my obligation to be a blessing to others. Ladies and gentlemen, don’t let material things and the world define your success…You have an obligation to yourself, to your family and to your friends. Your obligation is to sow, plant and nurture each other. You also have an obligation to this institution to take your rightful place as leaders and to become contributing members in today’s global society.”
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