Until a few years ago, Gregory Thurston walked the SUNY Broome campus as a recruiter for the U.S. Marine Corps. He struck up conversations with students and faculty members and enjoyed the interactions.
The Fort Lauderdale native was a sergeant in the Corps, and previous duties included supply chain management and heavy equipment operation. He traveled around the world – Australia and Afghanistan, Japan and Thailand, South Korea and Hawaii – and developed himself as a leader.
“By the age of 21, I was in charge of 60 grown men,” he said. “I met wonderful people in the military, some really good friends. It was a really good experience that helped me mature.”
He came to the Binghamton area in 2013, but it proved to be more than the typical military post. He met his future wife, decided to stay and raise a family, and left the Marines in 2016.
“It was always in my plans to go to school,” said Gregory, who will graduate in May with a degree in Business Administration. “I enjoy school very much because I love to learn. Being a civilian is great.”
Gregory Thurston is still a leader – as part of SUNY Broome’s Men of Excellence Program, and now as president of Student Assembly. His long-term dream is to become a successful entrepreneur, building a family business that inspires others to do the same.
His current idea revolves around a cereal bar – think Sweet Frog-style, but with cereal rather than yogurt. Cereal bars aren’t new, he acknowledged, but he wants to sell a family-friendly environment centered on ‘90s nostalgia and hiphop. Maybe they’ll broadcast a radio station there too, and give small performances akin to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series.
It’s a wild dream, Gregory admitted – but most successful businesses start that way.
“I want to learn how to be a businessman so I can show my community that we can all do it. When I was growing up, I never saw many thriving black business owners,” he reflected. “Where have all the black-owned businesses gone? Like Black Wall Street – I feel like there’s got to be more.”
It can be a temptation – particularly for older students juggling careers and family life – to shun campus involvement and head home after class. Gregory Thurston took the opposite course and became more involved, from the Creative Writing Club, where he enjoys writing poems and rap songs, to Men of Excellence, the President’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion, the Business Club and, of course, Student Assembly.
Professor Carla Michalak in her political science class alerted Gregory to opportunities within the Assembly.
“I had a curiosity about how government works. I decided to put myself in Shared Governance and see what good I could do,” he said.
While he lost the election for Student Trustee, he was elected to Vice President of Student Affairs and, this semester, as President. Assembly officers are hard at work, facilitating events such as Your Voice Matters, which solicits student input on a range of campus issues, and a future sleep-in slumber party (separate from the annual Sleep Out for the Homeless). The Assembly also participates in Student Activities Day and other campus activities, runs the Food for Thought pantry, and works with Shared Governance and the Administration to address issues of importance to students, such as textbook prices.
“I think everybody is so excited to get to work. They’re putting forth a lot of effort,” Gregory said.
He has some advice for his fellow Hornets, too: Get engaged on campus. There are a lot of opportunities through clubs and student life, and extracurricular experiences can make college even more meaningful
“Do something. Your tuition pays for it and you’re allowed to be involved, and you might end up liking school even more,” he said.
Successful leaders don’t change the world by themselves; they rely on the support and inspiration of their mentors and loved ones. At SUNY Broome, Gregory has found inspiration and support in Educational Opportunity Program director Venessa Rodriguez, who runs the Men of Excellence Program, as well as Professor Michalak and Vice President of Student Development and Chief Diversity Officer Carol Ross.
But the deepest source of inspiration comes from the women in his life – his mother and sisters, his wife and daughter.
“Every step of my life, there has always been a black woman to encourage me,” he said. “I’ve never had anyone inspire me more than black women.”
After graduation, Gregory plans to take a semester off and visit his family in Florida. He’s also interested in seeing how far an Associate’s degree will take him in the business world. Longer term, he is looking to transfer to Binghamton University and do his best to improve the Southern Tier.
“I really want to stay in this community; I like the peace of it. It’s a good place to raise a family,” he said. “I’ll get an education and build something here.”
He will build on the foundation he began at SUNY Broome, where he learned not only about his chosen field, but also about himself and the excellence he can achieve through hard work.
“People seem to genuinely want you to succeed and do well here,” he said. “I can see there is effort in wanting students to do better and feel comfortable.”