Montel Williams tells cadets
the country needs their leadership © May 10, 2013, Norwich University Office of Communications

Celebrity television host Montel Williams started his April 9, 2013, visit to Norwich University by having audience members grasp one another’s shoulders.

photo by Jordan Silverman, staffCelebrity television host Montel Williams started his April 9, 2013, visit to Norwich University by having audience members grasp one another’s shoulders.

Montel Williams may be the happiest speaker ever to appear before Norwich University’s Corps of Cadets.

With a cry of, “Mountain, get out of my way,” the nationally known talk-show host, entrepreneur, writer and health-care advocate waded into the middle of a sea of students gathered in Plumley Armory on April 9, 2013, and immediately used his considerable energy to inspire and provoke. The nation is in desperate need of their leadership skills, Williams told cadets in a voice both joyful and sobering. This would not make their paths easy.

“You’re going to have the hardest time during the next six years of any generation in the last 50 years,” he said.

Williams, who won Emmy awards as the 17-year host of The Montel Williams Show, began his career in the US Marines and was the first African American accepted to the Naval Academy Prep School who went on to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. He served as a cryptologist for the Navy aboard submarines in Panama, El Salvador, Grenada and the Persian Gulf.

We are in such dire
need for engineers
that we need to
change the paradigm.

Montel Williams

While careful not to devalue other academic disciplines, Williams, who studied as an engineer and linguist at the Naval Academy, addressed many of his comments to students pursuing engineering and math degrees. The burden of responsibility, he said, will fall heaviest upon people in technical professions. They need to be the people who figure out how to start rebuilding a crumbling national infrastructure.

The problem, he said, is not simply one of money or will: Engineers need to come up with creative ways to solve physical problems, and also inspire our country and leadership to get “interested” in solving problems. In short, they need to step up as leaders.

Williams gave an example to the Corps, which at more than 1,400 cadets is one of the largest in Norwich’s 194-year history. U.S. colleges and universities are now graduating more foreign-born engineers than native-born, he said. That is fine, but the government is not allowing them to work here. You see similar disfunction in the failure to maintain and support programs that benefit social infrastructure, such as social security, retirement pensions and treatment of PTSD, added Williams. Lack of leadership is affecting more than roads and bridges.

“Unless we start turning the tide, there is no way we can compete at the international level,” said Williams. “We are in such dire need for engineers that we need to change the paradigm.”

Williams gave the Corps a detailed recounting of his early life, including a childhood in a poor Baltimore neighborhood, career in the Marines, the outreach he conducted with military families that led to public speaking and his subsequent talk show success, and his battle with Multiple Sclerosis and struggle to keep his body functioning.

Williams, who was invited to Norwich as part of the Presidential Leadership Speaker series, said he was excited to visit after digging into a bit of the history of Norwich, the country’s oldest private military college. Students who willingly go through a challenging and goal-oriented program like the Corps of Cadets will be come the country’s next generation of leaders, he said.

“I’m not using this term lightly,” he said. “I want you to understand how special you are.”