May 22, 2005 When Joseph Fergus speaks, it is with confidence that he knows his subject. On Friday, his subject was entrepreneurship, technology and integrity. Fergus, who grew up in a housing community on St. Croix, told students at Central High School, "You can do whatever you want."
Fergus, whose high-tech communications company, COMTek, is located in Chantilly, Va., was on St. Croix this week as part of the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police meeting at Carambola Beach Resort. Fergus set up the communications for the meeting at his own expense.
But he took a couple of hours Friday to return to his alma mater to show young people that you can grow up in the Virgin Islands and go on to do great things.
But, he said, "You have to have integrity." He also told the 100 or so students gathered in the Media Center at the high school they also had to stop accepting the status quo.
"You don't have to compromise your integrity to be successful." But, he said, "things are going to have to change in the Virgin Islands."
He said, "You have to move away from the cesspool mentality." He later explained that he believes you can achieve goals without engaging in the politics and maneuvering that often accompany the conducting of business in the V.I. and elsewhere.
Along with entrepreneurship and integrity, another topic that Fergus was passionate about was technology.
The change he sees as necessary is also in that area. "New energy needs to be supported by new technology," he said.
"You are the future leaders," Fergus said, "You need to take ownership."
When the students were asked what they wanted to be, the answers came back, "lawyer," "obstetrician," "computer technician."
Fergus, who has donated 30 computers to the school, told the group that no matter what they wanted to be, technology and computers were essential.
"No longer can you say 'I don't need a computer.' You are the cyber generation."
He was also adamant that the technology needed to go forward was already available. "If you wait for 10 years to get reliable high-speed Internet, you will not catch up."
Fergus told the students if they skipped college, they would also never catch up.
The decision to go to college was the first adult one they would make, he said.
"Even if you're not sure what you want to do that's OK," he said. "You can decide as you go along." The important thing he said was, "You must go to college. You must get a degree."
Sitting in on the session was Central High principal, Kent Moorehead.
Moorehead and Fergus were classmates at the school. They recalled sitting in the same library where Friday's meeting was held. But they weren't looking at computers.
"We had encyclopedias," Fergus said. "You don't need them anymore. You've got it all on the Internet."
During the question-and-answer period, one student asked, "After college, will there be room for us at COMTek?"
Fergus said he planned to bring other business partners along with him who could provide employment opportunities, along with COMTek. "What you don't need are handouts," Fergus said. "What you need … is meaningful employment."
Fergus was clear about another thing, too. Entrepreneurship can't survive without competition.
"You have to understand you have the power," he said. "It's competition that leads to empowerment."
He said, "The days of having one telecommunications company, of having to wait five to 10 minutes to get online are over." He said, "You don't have to put up with that stuff anymore.
"You have to say, 'I'm mad as hell, and I'm not taking it anymore.'"
And the students said it.
Fergus has arranged for several of the students to attend the police commissioner's meeting on Monday to see for themselves the kind of technology he is talking about.
As the meeting broke up, most of the students were in line signing up to attend.
Sharon Prudoff, teacher at the school for 28 years and computer technologist, said attendance at Friday's meeting, which took place during the lunch hour, was voluntary. "They are just students who want to know about computers and technology," she said. The population was evenly split between girls and boys.
Fergus, who has received numerous awards including the Nunn-Perry Award from the Department of Defense, the Top 100 award from "Black Enterprise Magazine," and who is being acknowledged for his accomplishments again next month by "Black Enterprise," told the students, "If I can do this … you can to it, too." In fact, Fergus said, "You can achieve greater heights than I have."
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