Larry Thomas says he could have done a lot of things with his gifts to the university, but that there was no doubt he wanted to invest in underrepresented students.
“It matters that they know somebody is out there, wanting them to achieve,” says Thomas, who joined the university as vice president of communications in 2020.
The ’83 SJMC alumnus says his time at South Carolina was so rewarding that he wanted to give back when he reached the point in his career that he could. Eventually, he set up the Janie Mae and Lafayette Thomas Scholarship to honor his parents.
“My mom and dad never passed the sixth grade,” he says. “Back in those days they had to work the fields to make a living. Since they didn’t get a chance to go to higher education, they were committed that my siblings and I would go.”
Further into his career, he established the Larry and Delores Marie Thomas Scholarship with his wife. He says it was important because he knows how challenging financing college as a minority can be.
“I worked my way through college because I had to,” he says. “If I can create an opportunity to make life a little easier for someone who’s needing a little boost financially, I am happy to.”
The Thomases recently met this year’s recipients at a luncheon. He says it’s exciting to meet promising young J-school students.
“It reminds me of that youthful exuberance I had when I was there,” he says. “I try to give them words of wisdom on how I’ve survived throughout my career in communications and PR.”
One of those students is junior visual communications major Kayla Jeffers.
“It was nice that they wanted to get to know us and give us advice for our careers,” Jeffers says. Jeffers is a CIC ambassador, a member of the Association of African American students, public relations chair of the National Association of Black Journalists and co-news director of NABJ TV.
Jeffers says she is grateful for the scholarship and hopes to be a creative director for a company like Nike or use her love for storytelling to work on documentaries.
“It means a lot for someone to invest in my education — for someone to see potential in what I’m trying to do in life and want to help,” she says.
Thomas knows what a difference it makes for students to feel like someone is taking a chance on them.
“There were always points in my career where I was asking someone to believe in me — to take a chance and give me an opportunity to achieve, and if they did, I would not let them down,” he says. “It’s important for our alumni to take that chance to give back to the next generation.”