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Carver grad who found success in Army returns, talks to students
Lt. Col. Donald Ferguson talks with JROTC students Wednesday at Magna Vista High School. Ferguson, who graduated from Carver High School in 1987, spoke with about 200 county students on the importance of education. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Thursday, March 13, 2014
By HARRISON HAMLET - Special to the Bulletin
JROTC students at Bassett and Magna Vista high schools learned Wednesday how a former local resident turned the military into a college education and a career.
Army Lt. Col. Donald “Ray” Ferguson Jr., a 1987 graduate of Carver High School, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, is working on a doctorate and is a university professor.
On Wednesday, Ferguson returned to his childhood home to speak to local JROTC students about those experiences.
Ferguson was introduced by Curtis Millner, his former JROTC teacher and a current member of the Henry County School Board.
“He (Ferguson) just shows something that I look for and wish that more of our young people had: The ability to stick with action, see it through and not to give up at the first little slight drawback,” Millner said.
“It’s great to come home and have an impact,” said Ferguson. “First I’m extremely glad I knew Chief Millner — well I call him ‘chief’ — but he was able to get me in to do this. We talked to about 200 kids today, but without his influence this wouldn’t have happened and I think it’s so important to give back because guys like Mr. Millner and the school system as a whole helped me out” when he was a student.
Much of Ferguson’s talk centered on the importance of education, with his goal of making the most of the future emphasized. Ferguson explained how someone who came from a difficult background without the funds for college could make the most of other opportunities.
He briefly talked about his childhood, which was full of moves from house to house in less-than-glamorous neighborhoods, and his “struggles as a teenager.” From Campbell Court Elementary to Stanleytown Elementary, John Redd Smith Middle School, Bassett Middle School, Richard H. Clark Middle School and finally Carver High School, Ferguson said he became familiar with the challenges facing students across the area.
After graduating from Carver in 1987 and several years of military duty, Ferguson was dedicated to advancing his career within the Army. That required more education.
“Before I made captain I realized you had to have a bachelor’s degree, which I didn’t have,” he recalled. “So the Army let me get out and go to school for two years at Georgia Southern (University). They knew they had to invest the time in me to go to college, but I didn’t have the time to go as an officer, so they allowed me to take two years off and go to college full time.”
A bachelor’s degree from Georgia Southern, earned in 2000, was not enough for Ferguson, who said he constantly was looking ahead and planning for his career. He went on to earn a master’s in business administration from Capella University in 2007 and is working on a doctorate in homeland security.
Although he took the long road to an education, Ferguson and his commanders in the military saw the positives in investing in education.
“They have to invest to grow, and (the military is) doing that. The problem is now they’re going to do it less because the military is downsizing,” said Ferguson. “They are still giving back, but now they want more. They made it tougher. The cut is higher now to do certain things, and that’s why I’m so worried about these students” advancing their own educations.
Ferguson is a professor of military science at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo. Approaching retirement from the military, he hopes to move back to the Martinsville area and teach in the next year or two.
The students at Magna Vista seemed attentive and impressed by Ferguson and his accomplishments. The program was interactive, and the students spent about as much time responding to Ferguson’s questions as they did listening to him.
“I thought the presentation was good. I think he gave us a lot of essential information we need to know about our future,” said Magna Vista JROTC Lt. Col. Travis Hairston. “He let us know there is really another way. You don’t have to go to college or into the military. It was really helpful. I think it’s really cool when they bring in speakers like Lt. Col. Ferguson, because I see myself doing that one day.”
“I learned that being in JROTC and being active in it can take you to an actual (collegiate) ROTC program that can pay for your college,” said Magna Vista JROTC Capt. Kayla Cassada.