Dr. Damon Williams '90 isn't one to set small goals. He plants his markers miles high and sets out for the summit with a confident stride.
"I want to be one of the most influential people of my generation in terms of empowering others," he said definitively. "I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and know that I gave every single ounce of everything that I had and was a real difference-maker, and that what I believed and the way I tried to live my life had a meaningful impact on a generation."
These are ambitions that don't come to fruition without a powerful drive to work incredibly hard, but Williams is not one to shrink away from the struggle. He pushed himself all the way to receiving his Ph.D. in organizational behavior and management from the University of Michigan. It's what set him on the path to become the Senior Vice President, Chief Educational & Youth Development Officer at Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
In fact, hard work is something he genuinely enjoys and has enjoyed since longtime faculty member Frank "Stretch" Longstreth taught him to do so.
"Probably my most fond memories from Reserve are of Stretch," Williams said. "He taught me how to embrace the grind of the work and love it. That's a beautiful gift to give somebody. I love my work, and I learned that from him."
When Williams first came to WRA, he struggled with the transition. It was in no way an easy switch to considerably more challenging classes, particularly his Latin course. Though Stretch wasn't his Latin teacher, he took notice.
"He comes up to me and goes, 'Williams! I hear you're struggling in Latin! What are you going to do about it?'"
For three years, five to six nights a week were spent at Stretch's house, working on his Latin assignments. When Williams thinks back to his time at Reserve, he remembers these evenings of diligent study and Stretch's wife Cynthia's milk and cookies.
"When I talk about growth mindset and overcoming obstacles — when I talk about grit and resilience — when I talk about disciplined practice, these are all social psychological concepts associated with a number of themes of success," said Williams. "Stretch understood those principles, and he shared them with all of his students. I was very fortunate to have gotten a very large dose of that at an incredibly important time in my life, when it became part of my foundation."
Williams was the 2016 Knight Fellow speaker and is this year's Waring Prize recipient. He claims that one of the most treasured moments of his life was when he learned he was to be recognized as a prize winner.
"To be canonized in the history of Western Reserve Academy, one of the most special institutions in the world — I am really thankful for this honor," he said. "It is humbling, and it moves me to deep emotion. It places me in a space where I think about the journey, how far I've come, and it also stokes the fire in me to do more."