By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
“Dream Big.” That’s Edgecombe Community College student Andre Cooper’s philosophy and the title of the speech that earned him a national award for public speaking.
“Dream big is just about thinking outside the box, maybe being the next Bill Gates or the next Oprah Winfrey,” Cooper said. “Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates had one common goal – to make their dreams a reality.”
Cooper delivered his award-winning speech at the Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lamba (FBLA-PBL) National Leadership Conference in Anaheim, Calif. ECC was among 50 or so universities represented at the conference.
“Little Edgecombe brought home first place. I’m just really honored to represent Edgecombe on that level,” Cooper said.
This is the first time ECC has competed in the FBLA-PBL competition on the national level. With a membership of 250,000 students and advisers, FBLA-PBL is the largest business career student organization in the world.
The second-year business administration student had previously received third place at the FBLA state conference and worked with his public speaking instructor, Phil Bailey, on revising the speech and practicing it “a couple of hundred times” before going to nationals.
“I lived that speech for three months, so when it was my time to go, it was, ‘Lights, Camera, Action,’” Cooper said.
Winning first place in the competition earned Cooper recognition from Gov. Pat McCrory, who sent him a letter Aug. 22.
“This accomplishment was the result of your hard work and dedication to being an excellent student. Your commitment to these values is an example for your fellow students to follow,” McCrory wrote.
Cooper said he aspires to be a “great motivational speaker” one day, traveling the world encouraging people with a “message for the masses.”
“I’ve always known that I loved public speaking. I love to have an audience, to captivate people,” he said.
Cooper wanted to impart an empowering message with his speech:
“Regardless of your circumstances, you can be No. 1, if you work hard.”
Cooper decided to go back to school to pursue his own dreams. He graduated from Northern Nash High School in 1997 and after working a number of jobs, decided that he wanted something more for himself.
“I just realized I had more to offer than just entry-level jobs,” he said. “You start to dream, you start to think outside the box. Instead of working for somebody, why not start your own business?”
Cooper works full-time at Meadowbrook Meat Company (MGM) and goes to school full-time at ECC Tuesday through Friday. He gets up around 6 a.m. and doesn’t get off work until 1 a.m.
“Going to school and working a full-time job is not easy,” Cooper said.
He is taking 14 credit hours this semester and has a 3.5 GPA in business administration. He is also the president of the Student Government Association (SGA). Cooper said he loves the atmosphere at ECC, where students are pursuing their goals and advancing their career opportunities.
“I started out at Edgecombe not really knowing what to expect because I’m a non-traditional student,” Cooper said. “It’s imperative to have an education now and Edgecombe gave me a chance…Edgecombe has helped me to believe in myself.”
Cooper is set to graduate from ECC in May 2014. His goal is to continue his education at East Carolina University, where he will major in business and minor in political science.