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Advice to College Students: Your Voice is Valuable, Speak Up

The Sounds of GU Podcast

with Young Alumn Justin Willis

Advice to College Students: Your Voice is Valuable, Speak Up

Q: Hello Justin Willis, and welcome to the podcast.

A: Hello, how are you doing today?


Q: I’m great! How are you?

A: I’m doing well.


2020_young_alumni_justin_willlis_photo_6Q: Well if we want to start, I'll give you a chance to introduce yourself, tell us about who you are and your connection to Greenville.

A: My name is Justin Willis. I graduated in 2019 with my major in sports management and minor is business.


Q: Do you know your enneagram type?

A: What’s that? Like your birthstone or something like that?


Q: It’s a personality test but there’s nine different types. I’m an enneagram guru, so I’m able to tell a lot about someone from their enneagram type so I always ask people that. If you don’t know that is totally cool.

A: No, honestly this is the first time I’m hearing about it.


Q: That’s awesome. Well if you want to look it up and take the test you are more than welcome too. It’s pretty cool.

A: Yeah for sure.


Q: Any interesting facts about yourself or hobbies?

A: Hobbies I’m all over the place right now. There’s a point where I was trying to learn the piano. I could only play the intro of redbone and that’s about it. I tried some other various songs as well but once I got into it my little brother ruined my confidence so I stayed away from it. I’m pretty active, so I like to do things that have to do with competition. So, I like to play basketball, and football of course and other things as well. I also read a lot of comics.


Q: That’s awesome. You played football at Greenville correct?

A: Yes, all four years.


Q: That’s awesome. We can get more into your journey since then but we are going to talk about your major first. So sports management, why did you decide to major in that?

A: So the real reason why I majored in that is different from other people I would say. For me, I knew coming into college I wanted to coach so actually I was an edu major at first. Then I took one class with all the education people and during that time I was more of an introvert than an extrovert. So during that time, I’m dealing with all these people now and I hate my life. If i continue to do this it’s going to be a miserable career for me. So, I decided to go into sports management because I knew I wanted to stay in the sports field as well. Sports management was more of a back up plan for if I graduated and couldn’t get a job in coaching. That’s another reason why I decided to go into sports management.


Q: Your business minor, how did that come into play?

A: To be honest, it was a resume builder. I wanted my resume to look good. I was like why not add a business minor. Plus a lot of sports management classes went into that major of business management. Why not knock out two birds with one stone.


Q: I will have when I graduate a business minor too so I totally get it. Sometimes you gotta do stuff just so your resume looks better. So you were involved in football, anything else on campus you were involved in while you were here?

A: Really just football, that was the only thing I was involved in. If I were to go back I would try to be more active on campus besides just my athletic abilities. If you count working at the student union, I worked there for 3 years. I guess I was a part of papyrus for a couple months.


Q: You were a writer in the sports section right?

A: Yeah.


Q: Was I your editor?

A: Yeah you were my editor.


Q: Sweet. I was like, I think that’s how we first met but I wasn't for sure.

A: Yeah, you were very dependable compared to everyone else. It was a struggle in that class but it was fun, I loved it.


Q: That’s so sweet. Thank you. I think for your major, but correct me because you know more since it’s your major and not mine but that class was a lot of writing compared to what you had to do in your other classes.

A: Yeah definitely.


Q: For students that are listening, or prospective students that are listening and maybe they want to go into sports management, what can they expect in a sports management class or that program at Greenville?

A: I would say it’s not as sweet as people make it sound. It’s easy but not as easy because it depends on how much effort you put in. A lot of people go into sports management thinking it’s going to be easy but then they struggle within the first semester compared to others who strive during their whole time. I think it's more of an effort thing, if you put a lot of effort in and are willing to learn more and reach out it’s definitely beneficial. I say within that class that was very challenging. Coming to that class I was embarrassed to write and show my stuff to the public because I was going to get made fun of for my writing and stuff so it’s definitely a challenge for me getting out of my comfort zone and be able to have the confidence to write and especially cover the basketball team. Than the next semester I was covering the football team which was even more of a challenge because I played on the football team so if we lost it was very difficult to write articles about us losing but still trying to be positive about it even though I was upset that we lost.


Q: For anyone listening that doesn’t know the papyrus is, it’s our on campus basically newspaper but it’s online. I think that’s how it’s been explained to me but there's several different sections and one of them is sports and all the sports management majors have to be a writer for the papyrus for 2 semesters. You will get assigned an athletic team that you have to write for within the sports section. It’s a way to increase your writing skills because like you said people think going into sports management it’s going to be easy but it’s not and you do need a lot of those skills that a lot of people don’t think you learn in college. You want to talk about how classes like having to write for the papyrus prepared you for your field?

A: I say one of them is patience, dealing with the papyrus taught me lots of patience because for me with football season you have to have everything updated as soon as possible because within the next two days afterwards I’m about to play another game and no one’s really going to care about what happened last weekend they care about what’s about to happen. Definitely a lot of things with patience because you want your article out as soon as possible but you also have to understand that they’re also looking at other people's articles as well that were trying to upload. That’s definitely a challenge for me and also finding positive quotes I’ll say. A lot of people took it as a joke and never really said anything positive so that was challenging for me. Another thing is to just get outside your comfort zone. Like I said earlier, I was ashamed of my writing at first I was scared because people made fun of my writing before but at the end of the day if you love something you are going to do it to your best ability. Definitely get outside your comfort zone.


Q: Do you feel like that experience on the papyrus helped you build your confidence in your writing?

A: I would say for sure. It also taught me to pay attention to detail as well because you want to make sure you have the correct stats, people’s name spelled correctly. Sometimes someone could have 2 r’s in their name and you only put 1 in their name, it’s just little thing like that. It’s definitely taught me to pay attention to detail as well.


Q: What was your favorite class other than the papyrus and who’s your favorite professor?

A: Multiple classes I actually enjoy. One of them was mu communication 102 class with Danara Moore. She’s an interesting professor but my favorite professor of all time and we have a good relationship. Another professor I had was Mrs. Chism. I think she retired before you actually came. She was definitely one of my favorites, she was such a sweetheart. She was the first professor I built a relationship with my freshman year. She had a lot of confidence in me which i enjoyed her class. Also the goat Mrs. Bell, she was definitely one of my favorite professors and I can’t remember the class but it was really fun because one of our projects towards the end of the year we would have to take over a certain team. For me, I had basketball so my team was in Phoenix and i pretty much did a lot of different things with it and it was pretty fun. Having to come up with an a team name, team name, team colors, sponsors. My team was sponsored by Krispy Kreme because I love Krispy Kreme donuts.


Q: So that was a part of the class, you got assigned like an NBA team or something?

A: Yeah. Some were NBA and some football.


Q: You just have to create marketing for them?

A: Yeah.


Q: Yeah, I don’t know the professor that you said retired but I’ve had Jane Bell, she is the goat. I haven’t had her in class but I have interacted with her a lot on campus. She’s fun! I think Greenville is unique and what I’ve heard from a lot of people just on this podcast but just from speaking from my experience as well, forming relationships with your professor it comes kind of naturally and it’s something that a lot of people find value in at Greenville. Our faculty to student ratio is 1 to 11 so super small classes. What was your experience like building those relationships with those professors at Greenville?

A: It was a pretty special deal for me. It was really important because me coming out of high school I had a lot of good relationships with a lot of my teachers and they have made a positive impact in my life to this day. Coming to Greenville, just the way the teachers were to me and the relationships we built. It was really easy to talk to them and be able to reach out to them when I was in need something. I definitely enjoyed my time at Greenville when it came to communicating with professors. When it comes to classroom learning for me honestly, I think I learn more outside the classroom just like learning from different perspectives with personal growth, mental heath, just important things like that I learn more outside the classroom than I did inside. I had that relationship with my professors where I’m able to go to them after class. With Mrs. Bell, it was really special to me, it was my senior year with her and she had room visits where you can just go and talk to her for like 30 min or so. I always enjoyed those because we were able to talk and I was able to update her on some stuff that’s going on with me and than pray. It was special to me to have that during my last 2 semesters at Greenville.


Q: That’s awesome. So, what are you doing now and I keep thinking about this while we are talking where are you from?

A: I forgot that, that was supposed to be part of my intro. I’m from Lindo Texas actually born in Miami Florida, moved to Texas when I was 5. I’m actually a Texan now.


Q: And you are there now?

A: Yeah, for now.


2020_young_alumni_justin_willlis_photo_4Q: What are you up to now since you’ve graduated?

A: It’s been a rollercoaster. I was actually at MacMurray coaching corners. Then, I actually got the opportunity to play and coach overseas in Germany. I’ve been keeping it under wraps for a long time. I’m supposed to be going over there and actually the week I was supposed to leave and go to Germany that’s when they shut down all travel because of COVID and everything. Then a couple weeks later I was keeping in touch with them to see what was going to happen with the season and they actually ended up canceling the season and now thats kind of pending. Right now I got a coaching position somewhere I can’t announce it right now because I’m not sure when it’s going to be released but you’ll hear an announcement soon.


Q: Dang, that is such a bummer that you didn’t get to go to Germany.

A: Yeah it was. I was really looking forward to it but at the end of the day you can only control what you can control.


Q: You have a good outlook on it. I was supposed to be in Washington for the summer and when that got cancelled I was super bummed. I’m very thankful for where my life is right now but it’s hard when your plans change and you have to figure it out and kind of a bummer. We talked about your Greenville experience and where you are now and where you want to go. How did Greenville prepare you for all the coaching that you’re doing now?

A: With all the supporting guys I had around me, my friends, family and the coaches who are the main thing with that. For me, my journey throughout that system was like my freshman and sophomore year I didn’t pay attention much because I was just the average kid. I’m just here to play ball or anything about all it is that you talk about then my junior year it started to click a little more because we are about to be grown ups and about to enter the real world. Some of the things he was saying I could actually relate so I started taking notes and writing down the things he was saying. Around senior year it finally clicked and it helped a lot with all the situations was going through, fight adversity and things like that. The main thing it taught me how to grow as a person, overcoming adversity and it also helped me grow closer to Christ.


Q: That’s so cool. Since you brought it up, what was your faith life like before you came to Greenville and how did it change as you became a student and graduated?

A: Coming in, I wasn’t big in my Christianity but I was a Christian and I was saved, I believe in Christ and he kept the word in my heart. I wasn’t really consistent, I’m not going to say I strayed away but I just wasn’t as consistent as I was with Christ and my relationship with him. I started picking it up more around my junior year then towards the end of my senior year it got even better because I had more accountability with my friend group. Started to have Sunday night bible studies every Sunday until we graduated and that really helped me when it came to the scripture and just keeping that relationship with God. We also challenge each other too, just little things but there’s a thing on our phones where we could check how much time we look at our phones. For us, if you spent more than 4 hours on your phones we are making fun of you because you aren’t spending your time wisely. Challenges like give 30 min of your day to give to Christ if you can. You didn’t have to do it all at one time but different times of the day you could give to Christ. With challenges like that I feel like it helps because I’m competitive so it’s a definitely another fun way to help us build a relationship with Christ.


Q: That’s so cool that you had that accountability because in your faith walk that’s super important. I think you mentioned earlier about getting more involved but is there anything else you would go back and do differently?

A: I’d say one of the classes I found interesting later on, philosophy 101, I had a really good teacher. It was Laura Goodnight's older sister, but looking back at it I wish I paid more attention because now I have more information in how things work. I wish I would have taken that class more seriously because actually I enjoy learning about philosophy, different scenarios and things like that and seeing things from a different view to open up your mind. Also, this is a serious topic to me just becoming more aware of what’s going on in the society today and with the black lives matter movement and police brutality. I wish I would’ve been more involved in that when I was in school, because I just felt like for me I didn't really have a voice to be heard. So, I just kind of kept quiet, but now that I have more information, and I'm actually more aware of what’s going on, I wish I spoke up more and maybe would’ve tried to make more of a difference. I’m not sure how big of an impact I would’ve made but I wish I would’ve spoke up more and brought more awareness.


Q: Yeah, that’s an interesting point. I think where we are today is just so interesting and I know when I ask that question, this is the 3rd podcast in this series that we’ve recorded I’m always like no regrets. Whatever your experience was you shouldn’t want to change that but looking back I think it does help you formulate your decisions that you’re making now. When you’re able to look back and say “oh I should’ve got more involved, I should’ve spoke up in this area or that area” it helps you realize okay well how can I do that now. I think that’s really cool and I would say that diversity and inclusion at Greenville is so important and as a student I want to continue to empower the students around me to use their voice even when they feel like they don’t have a voice, I think Greenville tries more and more everyday to try and give students their voice and in every way possible using that is so beneficial to our campus life. The more diverse it is and the more conversations we have about hard topics that are just really hard to bring up as soon as we open the narrative for people to be open about their stories and what they’re experiencing whether that’s with police brutality or any topic that can seem hard to bring up. The more that we’re able to empower people to use their voices the more that it’s not uncomfortable eventually so I appreciate that and can relate to that too because it’s hard.

A: It really is and like I said I didn’t really know how I could go at it you know so it was definitely a challenge but like I said if I could go back I would do that.


2020_young_alumni_justin_willlis_photo_5Q: Sometimes when you think about wanting to make an impact and wanting to make change you think the macro like what’s the big things that I can do but I what I’ve come to realize is this type of stuff is stuff that you fight for in your everyday conversations. You call your mom everyday and there’s something that could come up in that conversation or you’re talking to your best friend there’s something there. It’s making the small corner of our world whether that’s at home or at school or on campus or wherever it is better and that makes a big impact no matter how small it might seem from the outside. I appreciate you bringing that up but switching gears just a little bit, your favorite GU tradition?

A: I would say mine is Midnight Breakfast. I really enjoyed midnight breakfast, I think the best one I went to was probably like my sophomore year second semester. That one was one to remember. I still see snap chat memories from that all the time. I’m glad I went to that one.


Q: You said which one was that?

A: 2017


Q: So I would’ve been a freshman. Just kidding that was before I got here. You missed this passed midnight breakfast the smoke alarm went off and we all had to go outside and the fire department showed up, Midnight Breakfast is always something good.

A: Yeah definitely. I used to get scared though because it’s always on the upper level too I always thought you might put a hole in the wall so I was kind of paranoid about that a lot but I still had fun.


Q: People that are listening and don’t know what midnight breakfast is are probably like fire department, holes in the ceiling like what are you talking about. It’s just a concert nothing scary. We are just in the dining commons and have food at “midnight” it’s really like 10:30. So memories at Greenville, what’s some memory that you’ve made that you will never forget?

A: One of them is my all time favorite was my senior year during football season. The first half of football season it was during training camp through the first 3 weeks of school. We knew we couldn’t play it all school year because it was going to die out. We decided to play a game of tag so after I watched the movie tag I got inspired to do that. You will have one player that will be it so for example my friend Deshawn he was it and started the game off. As soon as you were touched on campus that’s when it was game. It has a lot of rules to it as well but it’s pretty much free game like the only time you weren’t allowed to play was if someone was asleep or during games. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of memories. A lot of crazy things I did, I jumped a lot of chairs, ran into a lot of people by accident. That was one of my favorite memories that I will never forget just doing that.


Q: I’ve never heard of that. We did play this past year, I forget what it’s called, it sounds like that but it’s with socks so everybody could have up to like two or three pairs of socks on them and you had one person you were trying to get. It was over interterm so the whole two weeks and then the last person standing at the end of the two weeks won. It was fun.

A: Yeah thats fun. I can be extreme because you got be aware at all times and alert at all times.


Q: It keeps your life very awake. So, last question, for students listening maybe current students or students that are in high school, what advice would you give them?

A: Number one, I’ve been taught this since the day I arrived on campus is to make memories at all costs. That’s really the only thing I have to say just make memories at all costs because you only get to do this once. Life’s too short to just sit in your dorm and be an introvert. Make memories, go out of our comfort zone and make friends because the friendships that I made in college, are going to be your friends you will be tight with until the end of time because people that I met in college there relationships with them I still talk to them to this day. Definitely memories at all costs. That’s the only thing I have to tell them really.


Q: That’s awesome. I agree. The friends that I have made now are the ones I’m going to carry throughout my lifetime so that’s good advice. Any last words for you? Thank you so much for being a part of the podcast, I really enjoyed our conversation today.

A: Thank you for inviting me.