Reginald Smiley II
Category: 2020 College Winner

Reginald Smiley II

University of South Carolina - Upstate

“We are reminded that, in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame, but rather how well we have loved and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.” Those are the words of our nation’s first, African-American President of the United States, President Barack Obama.

As I read his words for the first time, I remember feeling a deep sense of pride and honor. I felt pride because here was someone who looked like me taking on the highest role in the land. This was something that I had never known to happen in the history of our country. I felt a sense of honor because he somehow captured in just a few words the message that had floated around in my head for a few years. This message is the foundation of my belief that no matter where you come from or what your disabilities may be, you can make a difference in this world.

It was during my elementary school years that one of my teachers had our class conduct some research on the Presidential candidates. As I began my research, I realized that Barack Obama was a candidate. I couldn’t believe that there was someone running for President who was African-American. I went home the same day and told my parents. They began sharing articles with me and explaining news clips since I showed so much interest.

Barack Obama would travel the country speaking to various people from distinct backgrounds. His message was always the same. He wanted those who would listen to know that it didn’t matter where they came from or the amount of money that they possessed; everyone who was willing to help others and spread love could make a difference in the world. My elementary-schoolaged mind wasn’t able to fully process this message at the time. However, during his Presidency, I grew older and paid attention to his words and actions. This was when I first formulated the idea of creating a non-profit organization to help others.

Being diagnosed at a young age with ADHD, I learned how to work harder than everyone else. By ninth grade, I knew that I wanted to volunteer in my community to begin gaining the knowledge I would need to one day open and run my organization. It was only after the death of a high school friend that I realized that time won’t wait around for you to decide what is important. The words of President Barack Obama rang in my mind, again. I joined an organization called the Alpha Academy. We worked diligently within our community with seniors and young people. Through this group, I learned the true meaning of brotherhood, community service, diligence, and commitment. I was finally able to bring to life the words of President Barack Obama. I was able to help in some small way with making the lives of others better.