by Greg Teachout
Lawrence Stallworth was hating his alarm clock every morning. He knew the sound ushered in a long day on the production line assembling Jeep Grand Cherokees or Dodge Durangos. The days were long, loud, and — despite decent working conditions and good pay — unfulfilling.
Stallworth was already a few years older than the average university graduate. He wondered if, and how, he had missed the boat. Hemmed in by the pounding and hiss of giant machines, Stallworth spent his days operating heavy machinery and wondering how he might do something that played to his interests and talents.
Stallworth had been working on a Plan B for years; it just hadn’t taken shape.
“I was always attending community college,” says Stallworth. “I always took classes here and there. I never stopped, because I knew if I stopped I might lose the motivation to do better in life. So I’ve always kept a class, even if it’s just one.”
One day, Stallworth realized he couldn’t keep his dreams on the back burner any longer. He began looking at universities. Wayne State was close to his home, but Michigan State held a special appeal. “I think the Spartan family is what really spoke to me,” says Stallworth. “The vast network that you have access to as a Spartan is what sold me. I thought of myself as eventually leaving Michigan. I asked myself, ‘When I do, what’s going to have more clout?’”
Overcoming Doubt at MSU
Stallworth was elated after deciding to come to MSU, but doubts set in afterward. He was a few years older than the typical person coming to live on campus for the first time. Many students were thrilled with their newfound freedom, and he was already an adult working full time and on his own.
But this difference also gave him an increased sense of purpose. “I was aware the stakes were a bit higher for me, because of how much I gave up in order to pursue my education.”
Arriving on campus was exhilarating, but also overwhelming.
Says Stallworth, “Many others are just leaving high school, leaving their parents’ house. There were times I would sink in my seat a little bit when I would hear people’s ages. I was like, I’m so late. I’m tardy for the party.”
But as he kept navigating his MSU experience, the necessary moments of reassurance and validation came.
Finding a Community
“Coming from a community college background, there’s little to no campus life,” says Stallworth. “Being thrown into MSU, there was a point where I didn’t even know what resources I had available to me. There’s something for everybody here, but you do kind of have to do some work looking for it. There’s a home there, you just have to find it.”
Stallworth found that home through his work with two programs that share some overlapping goals: MRULE-ICA (Multi-Racial Unity Living Experience and Intercultural Aide program) and MSU Dialogues, which seeks to bridge differences by connecting people from different identity groups for sustained, facilitated conversations.
“MRULE-ICA created another home for me at Michigan State,” says Stallworth. “The vibrant communities that this program can build within the residence halls — there’s nothing quite like it on campus.” Stallworth worked as an Intercultural Aide in the residence hall. As he honed his mediation and conversational skills, Stallworth also became heavily involved with MSU Dialogues. He impressed the director of that program enough through his participation that he was offered a job, which he accepted.
“Being someone who people could talk to if they needed help gave me the opportunity to enhance my skills as a leader,” he says.
Leadership and inspiring others were not at the top of Stallworth’s list when he arrived at MSU. The Advertising Management major arrived feeling apprehensive and a bit out of place; things turned around quickly. Stallworth finished his first semester at MSU with a host of social connections and a 4.0 GPA.
When he returned to his job at the plant over the summer, people couldn’t stop talking about the change he had made. People told him they were inspired to pursue their dreams; some wanted to go to college.
Says Stallworth, “When I set out to do this, I didn’t have anybody in mind but myself. But knowing that what I’m doing could motivate others — that’s a pretty good feeling for me.”
Stallworth graduated this spring semester. Stallworth praises his vibrant ComArts program and its faculty. He hopes to use the techniques and strategy he learned in Advertising Management to work for a nonprofit.
“I would like to help people change some of their behaviors in regard to lifestyle,” he says. “I would like to pursue health risk communications or anything within the realm of sustainability. I want to motivate people to live in a cleaner way.”