Terelle Robinson speaks at Richmond-Illumination Celebration

Terelle Robinson ’17, who currently works for Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, told the audience about the life-changing impact of the scholarship he received to attend William & Mary. Read his full speech below.

"I stand before you today as a proud alumnus (Class of 2017) who benefited significantly from my William & Mary experience. I came to you as a transfer student from Richard Bland College - not quite confident. But I left William & Mary a confident, self-assured and more focused young man. This was in large part because of the education, but also because of the people I encountered and the relationships I forged.   

Let me provide a little context.

I was raised by my grandmother from the age of two after my mother decided she could not care for me. My grandmother didn't’t hold any degrees nor possess an impressive resume. But, she possessed something much greater — love. She never allowed her grade school education to hold her back in life. She kept me close — keeping me in church and keeping me out of trouble.  

Over time, we formed a bond that became inseparable. Her steadfast love and commitment fueled my desire to push through any situation. I considered her to be my best friend. Nothing could separate us. Or at least that is what I thought.  

Little did I know that I would lose my grandmother to a massive heart attack my first week of classes while enrolled at Richard Bland. This was a defining moment in my own development. 

Her death forced me to mature and grow up much quicker than my peers. I was faced with forging ahead alone. I could have let her death stall my academic quest, but I knew that was not an option. I pushed forward with my grandmother’s spirit and the faith she instilled in me. I could not quit because she never quit on me.

I pushed myself at Richard Bland to figure out this thing called college with some good friends standing behind me. While there, I found out that I was a pretty good student. I was able to excel scholastically and athletically — ultimately being admitted to William & Mary.   

It was at this moment that I realized nothing in life occurs by luck or coincidence. William & Mary was going to afford me an amazing opportunity. It was in God’s plan for me to be at William & Mary.  

While at William & Mary, I did everything imaginable in my two short years, I was a walk-on to the track team, participated in the D.C. Summer Program, lead a group of new students as a Transfer Orientation Aide, and participated in a host of other clubs and events around campus.   

And while all of this was magnificent, it is equally important for me to note that I met some W&M alumni who embraced me, shepherded me and took care of me like families do. Some of them are in this very room tonight.  

Let me delve a little deeper into the power of networks… 

When I entered W&M, I had the good fortune to meet and to get to know many alumni, administrators, board members and volunteers. It is from these interactions that I began to know what it meant to be part of a powerful network. 

Based on a newspaper article about me in the local Richmond paper, I met Elizabeth Young, Class of 1983, who proactively reached out to me to let me know that I would not be alone in my W&M journey. She connected me to Earl Granger, Class of 1992, who worked on campus and also shared that I would not need to make this journey alone.   

As luck would have it, I had an opportunity to speak at a Richmond Regional Campaign Committee meeting in January last year. It was at this meeting that Earl introduced me to his classmate — Cliff Fleet — former president of Philip Morris USA, who had more William & Mary degrees than I could count. My story resonated with him and he made it aware that he would position himself to help me in any way possible.

Cliff and I later met for lunch and we talked about a variety of things, but in particular, we talked about my future and what I hoped to do, what were my interests. As a result of my interest in policy and politics, Cliff introduced me to fellow W&M alumni Lincoln Saunders, Mayor Levar Stoney’s Chief of Staff, and how he wanted to connect the both of us.

The three of us eventually met for lunch up in Richmond. I had an opportunity to tell my story and share a piece of my life with them. The meeting was a success, and I was later told that they would try to set up a lunch with the mayor.  

A month later, I had lunch with the mayor, Lincoln and Cliff. I was excited, nervous, but also confident that this soon-to-be William & Mary alum would wow the Mayor and be offered a job. To my surprise, that was not the case. The mayor said,“I like you and I think you have a great story, we should stay in touch.”

Was it something I said? Or did I not say enough? I was confused and thought the job search was back on. To my surprise, Lincoln and I connected a few weeks later and I was offered an internship position over the phone. I proudly accepted and began a month later working in the mayor’s office doing research and helping with constituent services.

 My role in the mayor’s office has evolved into a full-time position. I am still working in constituent services but I also regularly staff the mayor — especially on the weekends.  

My William & Mary network opened these doors for me. William & Mary and donors like you afforded me the opportunity to attend one of the finest institutions and to connect with some of the most influential people I have encountered.

I never would have thought in my wildest dreams that this little abandoned child from Ashland, Virginia would be afforded these opportunities. And note, it is not that I did not think I was deserving, but I did not always see a clear path. My William & Mary experience fortified for me how valuable our community is and how we look out and propel each other forward. 

William & Mary and the people of William & Mary are forever etched in my head and heart. I look forward to the day when I can help other students achieve their dreams. And just know, I will be forever boldly involved in the life of William & Mary with my time, talent and treasure. It is just that important. 

 Thank you for your time."