Troy University Trustee and alumna Karen Carter offered life lessons and words of wisdom to a new set of TROY graduates Wednesday night during the Dothan Campus commencement ceremony.
On July 20, 1969, Carter watched the moon landing from the seats of Claudia Crosby Theatre as a young TROY student. After witnessing an event that changed the world as we knew it, Carter said she was similarly inspired.
“My world was suddenly bigger, and yet smaller at the same time… and suddenly, I thought maybe I could walk on the moon one day,” she said. “Coming from a small town not far from here, I thought that I could do anything, and I still think that. I didn’t take that walk on the moon, but I took some more incredible walks instead.”
Like those who walked on the moon that day and picked up lunar rocks as souvenirs, Carter said she’s collected her own form of lunar rocks—life lessons.
The biggest rock in her collection is the rock of foundation: faith, family and friends.
“I wouldn’t be here with you tonight without my faith or my family and friends supporting me,” Carter said. “In your work, you’ll find that there will come many challenging days. Keep strong in your faith, continue to surround yourself with friends who can share your excitement and your tenacity and keep your family close. Treat your work colleagues like your work family and rely on them.”
The second rock in her collection: success depends on hard work.
“There’s no substitute for hard work. I grew up on a family farm not far from here, and I had parents who started to work before the sun came up and worked until the sun set. I watched hard work, and I knew the sacrifices they made to do that,” Carter said. “In recruiting and selecting business executives and agents across the country, I always look at what someone has done in their academic years and what someone has done in their work history. There are a lot of attributes that we look for in someone who is looking to advance in their career—leadership, empathy, teambuilding, vision—but the catalyst for all of those to be successful is still hard work.”
As a retired insurance and financial executive who spent 40 years in the industry, a member of the Troy University Board of Trustees, a member of the Troy University Foundation Board of Directors and Chairperson of the Academic Affairs Committee, Carter is no stranger to hard work, often spending 40 to 60 hours a week working, planning and preparing for the days ahead.
“I wanted to be the best at what I did, and I wanted to walk into a meeting and know my business better than anybody else,” she said. “As I walked into that corporate boardroom, there would be people around that table who were a lot smarter than I am, but I also looked around and realized that even though they might be smarter than I am, not many of them could work as hard as I could. Because of that, I was able to have a rewarding career and knew I could do that in other facets of my life.”
The third rock was one she had to adjust to quickly: change.
“One of the things I learned early in my management career is how to adapt to change. In the mid-70s in my office, the computer was as big as a refrigerator, and I didn’t know how to use it when I first started. Before that, we didn’t even have a computer,” Carter said. “But it wasn’t just the technology, it was changes in the law, changes in court cases. You have to think, “What will I do if things aren’t working?” Look at the daily routines you have and determine if there’s something you need to do differently because the world has changed around you.
“The threads of habit become the chains of reality in 21 days. They will become your reality, whether they’re good or bad. Your work habits truly will determine your career destiny—it can merge the past, the present and the future. Remember that the past contains memories, but it also contains lessons learned that you can use.”
In addition to leading State Farm agents in Alabama and surrounding states, she managed the Southeastern regional Marketing and Human Resources departments and was responsible for appointments of new agents in four southern states. Carter is also a past director of Junior Achievement of Greater Birmingham, a past board member of Business Council of Alabama and serves on the Auburn University Women’s Leadership Institute Advisory Board and the Sorrell College of Business Dean’s Advisory Board.
She and her husband, Richard Carter, have three children and seven grandchildren.
Over 115 students walked the stage at the Dothan Civic Center, one of them being first-generation college graduate Tiffany Jordan. Jordan received her bachelors in elementary education.
“Earning this degree is proof to myself that I can do anything if I put my mind to it. I had a setback that caused me to wait a whole semester for graduation, but I still didn’t quit,” she said. “I chose to get a degree in elementary education to show my kids that learning takes time because everyone learns differently.”
Jordan attended TROY through the TRiO program and said the services guided her to make decisions that benefited her educational needs. The Federal TRIO Programs are educational opportunity outreach programs designed to motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“TRiO has been the biggest support with allowing myself to accept my learning differences,” she said. “I am grateful to have attended a college that provides such programs to help other college students with the same experiences.”