Bill Cosby Encourages Students to ‘Work It’
“Celebrate what you have, and work it,” was the message Dr. William H. Cosby Jr., better known as comedian Bill Cosby, shared with South Florida State College students and staff at the SFSC University Center Monday afternoon.
The former high school dropout who became one of America’s most beloved entertainers was in Avon Park to give an evening comedy performance at the SFSC Theatre of the Performing Arts. Before his show, he set aside over an hour to talk with students about the obstacles he has overcome in life and, in a grandfatherly tone that combined bluntness with affection, to lecture, cajole, and inspire them into taking a no-holds-barred attitude to reaching success.
A comedian, actor, author, and television producer for 50 years, Dr. Cosby holds a doctor of education degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In 1965, he broke racial barriers by being the first African-American to co-star in a dramatic television series, “I Spy.” He appeared in the groundbreaking children’s T.V. show, “The Electric Company,” and created the educational cartoon comedy series, “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.” During the 1980s, he produced and starred in “The Cosby Show.” He is the author of 12 books and has been honored with numerous awards, including four Emmys, nine Grammys, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Dr. Cosby revealed that his own personal transformation began at age 19, when he dropped out of high school in his junior year because he was embarrassed to be “walking the hallways and looking at the little sisters and brothers of people I used to play with.”
“I was untruthful to my mother or anyone who asked me how I was doing,” Dr. Cosby said. “If they asked, I was always doing fine.”
“Divine intervention” led him to enlist in the U.S. Navy, where he turned his life around, developing self-discipline and solidifying his personal goals while working as a hospital corpsman. He then enrolled in Temple University with plans to major in education. “I wanted to be a school teacher so I could tell these seventh and eighth grade boys what I knew about life, to jack them up,” Dr. Cosby said. Instead, he became stand-up comedian and actor, but he frequently used his stage as a soapbox for personal responsibility, family obligations, and the value of education.
He told the story of a friend, who called to say he had found God as his savior but hoped his new religious conversion wouldn’t get in the way. “Does that make sense?” Dr. Cosby asked. “Yes, it does. Because God demands certain things, and that demand might get in the way. My friend was being honest, but at the same time his thinking wasn’t correct. You can’t accept God as your savior and then be worried that you can’t do what you want to do.”
“You are in this school to accept education as your savior, yet some other stuff is getting in the way,” Dr. Cosby continued. “Some of you have come here, but you’re still not ready. But as you step up, you come up on another level. There’s joy – the sheer joy of putting the time in and not being afraid to ask for help.”
“Some of you haven’t yet had the feeling of walking into a room to take a test, and you know you know it. I’ll put that feeling against any marijuana you’ve ever smoked, everything you’ve ever drank.”
To students who feared that friends would ridicule them for asking for help when they’re in trouble, Dr. Cosby said. “You’re in trouble anyway, so go.”
To those who worried about how old they would be when they finally got their degree, Dr. Cosby pointed out they would reach that age anyway and still not have an education, unless they made a commitment to acquiring one.
As part of his presentation, Dr. Cosby answered questions from several students, who were recovering from severe injuries and drug addiction or who felt the stress of juggling college, work, and family obligations. He advised them to set realistic goals, organize their time, model their lives after people they admire, and not use past failures as excuses for not doing their best.
“You’re here. If you want to shed tears, it’s not going to be about what you were, it’s about what you are,” Dr. Cosby said.