O’Neal described the students as “dedicated” and encouraged them to “follow their dreams.”
O’Neal said he wants the community to recognize the historical importance of the school, which was established in 1867, saying the college was where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights activist Andrew Young first met.
“There’s a lot of history here,” O’Neal said.
He said he was “very impressed” with the multi-cultural makeup of the student body.
“I love the integration of students here, even though it’s a historically black college.”
O’Neal also emphasized the importance of education during the visit.
“Education is the most important thing,” he said.
When O’Neal started to realize he was getting older and his basketball career was coming to an end, he made good on a promise he made to his mother, Lucille O’Neal, to return to Louisiana State University to complete the classes needed to earn his bachelor’s degree in business. He later earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix.
O’Neal said that even though his basketball career was over, no one could take his knowledge from him. He said that while he is respected as a basketball player, he needed to complete his education to be respected in the business world.
“Even though I’m Shaq, I’m also very academic and very intelligent,” he said.
O’Neal said Talladega College is a small school, but it is just as valuable to students seeking higher education as large universities.
“Academics are academics,” he said.
There are advantages to learning environments with fewer students, O’Neal said. He said he always chose classes with a small number of students because he “wanted that individual attention.”
O’Neal also appreciates those who offer their leadership to young people, and said that one of the very mentors who helped him achieve success, Hawkins, is present at the college every day to help guide the students of Talladega College.
“I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors like my uncle (Hawkins),” O’Neal said.
He said he would be back to Talladega College in the fall for fundraising efforts, and said the next project at the college is the re-opening of the dormitories at historical Foster Hall.
“We’re going to raise money,” O’Neal said. “We’re going to do big things. I look forward to coming back, and I’m going to put my money where my mouth is.”
“Whatever I can do to help, I will.”
Contact Kenny Farmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.