‘Waffle House hero’: Excellence not always about smarts, wealth

Taj Odem/ Courtbouillon
James Shaw Jr.

NEW ORLEANS (March 29, 2019) – Self-determination is the root of excellence, defined as sacrifice and determination by Honors Convocation speaker on March 26 in Lawless Chapel.

The program honored more than 400 students each who made the dean’s list and honor roll in spring and fall 2018. With 485 of 1,309 Dillard students listed as honorees for fall 2018, that comes to 37.1 percent of the enrolled fall 2018 student body, or four out of 10.

James Shaw Jr., attended Tennessee State University and became nationally known as the “waffle house hero” for disarming a gunman who killed four people in Antioch, Tenn., addressed a full house of honor students, faculty, parents and others.

He personally raised more than $240,000 to assist the victims of the incident and has since founded the James Shaw Jr. Foundation to make gun control, mental illness and the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder national priorities. An electrical technician, he announced he is becoming a certified mental health coach, to which the audience responded with applause.

Shaw referenced Forbes in stating that eight of 10 of billionaires have 10 businesses fail before the big one sticks.

He asked, “What made them persevere?…Each failed business was a sacrifice and a step closer to success.”  Shaw encouraged students to have self-determination and “push through” their situation.

“If your first plan didn’t work, you might have to use your Plan B,” Shaw said.

Shaw has been recognized on CNN, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” “The Steve Harvey Show,” among others and honored by MTV and BET, receiving its first-ever Humanitarian Award from singer John Legend. He saved more than 17 lives and was grazed by a bullet himself in what he described as a 42-second incident that he relives every day. The gunman was stopped after discharging 31 bullets, but he had 120 rounds in his possession, Shaw said.

Shaw stressed the importance of creating awareness in the black community about mental health and seeking help when you need it. Too often, he said, “we’re told to get over it.”

Shaw said he suffers from PTSD as a result of the incident and goes to therapy weekly to talk it out, write it out, draw it out: “It helps,” he said.

Shaw said he wasn’t trying to be a hero, but sometimes you have to sacrifice yourself in order to live.

Shaw explained that excellence is more than academics, accolades and creating wealth. Excellence can be about giving back and passing on morals.

Chad Fuselier, Thompson/Cook liaison chair and a Thompson/Cook Scholar, introduced Shaw. The Daniel Thompson/ Samuel DuBois Cook Honors Program is dedicated to Dr. Daniel C. Thompson, who wasp professor of sociology, chair of the social science division and vice president of academic affairs.

Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook led Dillard University as president from 1974-1997. He was the first African American professor to teach at Duke University and the first African American to hold a regular faculty appointment at any predominantly white college in the South.