Teacher's words inspired Wheelhouse Talks speaker
Prophetic words from his fourth grade teacher have lingered with Wayman Britt, inspiring him to be a leader throughout his life and setting his personal and professional trajectory on course.
Britt, the former county administrator/controller for Kent County, was the keynote speaker in this year’s finale of the Wheelhouse Talks series on April 28, speaking to the 29 graduating students of the Cook Leadership Academy at the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.
Part of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, the Cook Leadership Academy is a development program available to students who maintain high academic standards, are active in the GVSU community and dedicate themselves to the public good and a mission to lead.
As challenging as leadership can be, Britt has always remembered those words from his teacher in his native North Carolina as a source of inspiration and guidance.
“She told me I was going to be a leader some day,” said Britt, addressing the students. “I didn’t know what that meant. She saw something in me in the way that we see something in you.”
Britt, who was the first African American selected for Steelcase’s management training program, told the graduates that leadership will feel like a struggle at times, but to always remember their character and identity to persevere.
“Being a leader isn’t easy,” said Britt. “I felt like I was living in shark-infested waters. There are always roadblocks or questions to my authenticity. I didn’t listen to that flack. I listened to myself. I know you're destined for greatness.”
Britt shared another piece of inspiration from his North Carolina grade school that has also stuck with him through the decades: a quote from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” decorating the school’s auditorium.
“‘To thine own self be true,’” said Britt. “Never let your dreams or ideas about what you want to do ever leave you. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.”