One of Kentucky State University’s newest graduates is off to Washington to begin his career and rejoin his family.

Ralph Williams recently reflected on his three-and-a-half-year career at KSU, which included a long list of accolades and achievements. It’s the bonds built on The Hill that will mean the most, he said.

“I’ve had great professional relationships with my professors, staff members, and community members,” he said. “All the opportunities that I’ve had here have been through someone that I’ve known here and through their help, so I’m very thankful. I love KSU.”

Williams arrived at KSU from Germany. He knew he wanted to work in the United States, but he didn’t want to leave family behind entirely. With family members living in nearby Radcliff, Williams explored colleges in Kentucky.

The small size of KSU appealed to him.

“I just enjoyed the small, family atmosphere,” he said. “I felt like it would help me learn better and overall develop as a student and a young man.”

In his freshman year, Williams started attending KSU Board of Regents meetings to learn how things worked at the University. Four years later, he was attending those meetings as a KSU Regent after his election as Student Government Association (SGA) President.

“Sometimes I think our students don’t fully understand the value of knowledge you can learn at those meetings,” he said. “I enjoy it because I get to learn things about K-State that I never knew.”

Serving as a regent, among other activities and experiences, has taught him valuable leadership lessons.

“How to be professional, how to work with colleagues even when you don’t agree, how to be respectful to them, respect each other and uphold the mission of the organization,” he said. “I think that will translate well into the workforce.”

His higher education resume sparkles as he heads into a new career. He’s already landed a position with Altria Group Inc. in the Olympia area of Washington. He’ll serve as a territory sales manager. The company is only 10 minutes away from his parents. He’s thrilled about the reunion with his family.

Williams said the opportunity came about through his participation in the Thurgood Marshall College Fund Leadership Institute. Through that initiative, he said he gained valuable leadership experience, professional development, and now, a start to his career.

He was also selected an HBCU All-Star Ambassador for the White House Initiative on HBCUs, which gave him an opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., and advocate for HBCUs. He’s the recipient of the highly competitive Buick Achievers Scholarship, awarded to students interested in business or STEM areas. He’s a two-time recipient of Frankfort Mayor William May’s Citizenship Award.

Williams said what he’ll remember most is the opportunity to help his peers.

“It could be as simple as helping a student find their way to the financial aid office,” he said. “Or, helping them start a new organization or getting them help with something that might not even be related to school at all, but still helping them, because a lot of times they don’t know at all where to go, so they come to you.”

As Williams begins his journey in the workforce, he offers advice to new students at KSU. One of his core values, he said, is initiative.

“There are a lot of times when, especially as a freshman, you don’t know what’s going on, but you have to take the initiative to find out,” he said. “We can’t just always wait for someone to tell us what to do when it comes to looking for a scholarship or how to get into an honors society or an internship.”

He said it’s OK not to know the answer to something, but it’s not OK to give up.

“As a freshman, what I did, I would always go and talk to my professors or administration and through that, one, you gain knowledge, and two, it helps you later down the road because when they know your interests, they can help you,” he said.

For example, he said he spent a lot of time in the career center as a freshman. Through time spent there getting to know Ron Banks, now a KSU Regent, he earned an opportunity.

“One day I just got an email (over winter break) about an internship with the federal government,” he said. “I hadn’t gone to him for that, but he knew that I was interested in finding internships.”

Getting to know Banks opened up a door for Williams he didn’t know was there.

“School wasn’t even in session, and he said, ‘Hey, I think you’d be interested in this.’ He did that because he knew me, he knew what I was interested in, and I wouldn’t have had that opportunity if I didn’t take the initiative to go out and meet people here,” Williams said.

On Saturday, May 13, Williams and his classmates left the Frankfort Convention Center as newly minted members of the class of 2017. For Williams, it’s been a meaningful journey.

“I always say I came in as a young boy and I’m thankful to leave now as a young man,” he said. “I feel prepared through what KSU has helped me learn.”