Do the work": WPDE reporter, Morris College alumni aims to inspire with convocation speech on Thursday

September 13, 2021

Reprinted with permission from the Sumter Item by Kareem Wilson

Since seventh grade, Tonya Brown knew she wanted to be a reporter. Brown would often use her pencil as a microphone and interview people at her school and in her community.

The Bennettsville native furthered her passion for journalism at Morris College and graduated in 1996 with a degree in broadcast media, landing in her dream role as a general assignment reporter at WPDE/ABC News 15 in Florence.

Now, 25 years later, Brown returned to her alma mater for the college’s fall convocation on Thursday.

Brown spoke to hundreds of masked students inside the Garrick-Boykin Human Development Center auditorium during the historically Black college's annual convocation about “doing the work” this upcoming school year. She said she felt great coming back to connect with the students, as she knows what it is like coming from a smaller college and entering the real world.

“You will learn a lot here that will help you make that great launch in life in the real world,” Brown said. “But you have to prepare now to compete in the world.”

She regaled the audience about her time after graduating college when she didn’t start out as a reporter but as a tape operator for WPDE.

“I did that job as if I was an anchor. I put everything I had into doing it, and I worked that job faithfully,” she said. “I did the work.”

Despite other students coming from bigger colleges and universities, she did not let it stop her.

“It didn’t matter where I went to college. We all had the same degrees and same opportunities.”

She worked her way up the broadcast industry ladder, even working seven days a week, she admitted, eventually becoming a full-time reporter at the station and a trusted journalist who covers the Myrtle Beach, Florence, Darlington and surrounding areas.

She told students they will have to overcome obstacles and do what needs to be done for themselves.

“You have to do the work. You have to show that you have what it takes,” she said. “You’ve got to really take advantage of the opportunity to get a good education right here at Morris College.”

Students returned to campus this fall after a year of remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. After holding their convocation virtually last year, President Leroy Staggers said they are blessed to be able to assemble once again.

“We are so thankful that once again we are able to come back together as a Morris College family,” Staggers said. “We want to continue to pray because the pandemic is not over yet. We have a lot of challenges still in our midst and ahead of us. Safety is our first priority, but despite it all, we are back to some semblance of normalcy, and we pray that things will continue to progress.”

With 143 freshmen and a total student enrollment of a little more than 400 this semester, the campus is implementing every measure possible to keep students and staff members safe, including sanitation crews, hand sanitization and temperature check kiosks around the campus, COVID-19 quarantine dorms and mandated COVID-19 testing every other week.

“Everything we can think of, we try to keep everybody safe,” said Christopher Hall, management specialist at Morris College.
Brown encouraged everyone to keep going during this year.

“These are unprecedented and challenging times, and you’ve got to take it head on and do the work,” she said. “When you do the work, things will come your way.”

She hopes her message lit a fire under the Class of 2025 and returning students to remind them that with enough hard work and effort, they, too, can use their educational training from Morris College to better their futures.

Convocation Message