“Mountain, get out of my way!” shouted Montel Williams from the back of Plumley Armory. Heads of students and faculty turned to see where this battle cry was coming from after President Richard Schneider’s formal introduction led the celebrity into the room.
Montel Williams joined the Norwich University community for the afternoon of April 11. Although he is most widely known for his television show, “The Montel Williams Show,” Williams has pursued numerous avenues throughout his career thus far. He spent 17 years as an Emmy Award-winning talk-show host, speaks Chinese and Russian, served 22 years in the Navy, is a New York Times best-selling author, and a passionate veteran.
One of his current passions is to speak all over the country. “I really want to be here today,” Williams told the Norwich community. “I understood that I would get the opportunity today to address the people that really have to understand who they are: America’s next generation of leaders. You need to understand how special you are,” he said.
His life began in Maryland, during a time where there was racial segregation in America. “I am a product of America’s experiment called busing,” he told the crowd. During his youth, Williams came across a teacher who told him he would never be anything in life. “She had no idea who she was dealing with,” he said.
That drive to prove her and whoever else stood in his way wrong has since then led to great success. After enlisting as a Marine once he graduated high school, Williams applied for the Naval Academy prep school. Once accepted and graduated, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy and studied engineering and international security affairs as a midshipman in the Navy.
Williams suffered from a severe reaction to the wrong dose of an immunization just before graduating from Annapolis, leaving him slightly blind in his left eye. With this new health condition, he was tasked as a Naval intelligence officer, specializing in languages.
As a linguist, he and his unit were often deployed for hundreds of days on end. With some men and women gone two to three years at a time, Williams noticed the negative effects it had on the dependents of his sailors.
In response, Williams started a program speaking to the dependents of the people that worked for him. “That right there was the genesis of The Montel Williams Show,” he explained. In addition to this effort as a naval officer, Williams had well over 360 days under the water in a submarine and over 600 days on the water. “I went to Panama, I was in El Salvador, I was in Nicaragua, I was on Grenada and on the Persian Gulf,” Williams said.
Although his career in the military was successful, he feels as though his leadership started before he even entered the military. “You know you were destined to do something other than what your peers are doing,” he told a young crowd that was filled with students on the verge of entering the military themselves.
In 1999, Williams’ world changed as he knew it. He was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis). “It was the second most devastating news I had in my life and I knew I had extreme health issues to triumph,” he said. With that, he set out to change his life.
“I hope that you understand that you should be paying close attention to your physical health and your emotional health,” he encouraged. “I know that they have programs here for you to figure out the best guidance you can get.”
Williams works out every single day. He typically does 40-45 minutes of aerobics training, followed by resistance and anaerobic training. This concept is called cross-training, which Norwich’s cross-fit program embodies. “Right now, that’s how I think you stay fit for life,” he told The Guidon, referring to cross-training. “If you consider the fact that by cross-training you are actually activating more muscles than you could in any other form of exercise. That’s what is going to keep your balance when you get older.”
Williams recommends that young men and women be aware of what types of physical exercise they are doing now. “The damage you do to your body now will be felt later,” he said.
In addition to working out, Williams spends 20 minutes a day meditating and enjoys snowboarding. “It’s a time for you to concentrate and do guided, specific, mental notes,” he said.
When he’s not busy speaking around the world, working out, or taking part in a handful of other projects, he takes every moment he can to be with his family. His wife of almost six years is what “keeps my soul centered,” he explained. “She’s the one that stays on me for my medication. She’s my motivation to work out.”
As his time with Norwich University came to a close, Williams instilled one last thought into the audience: the future for America. “While you’re sitting in this room, America is crumbling,” he said of the neglected bridges, roads, and infrastructure.
“You came here because you want to lead,” he said. The nation is depending on the rising generation to help the country rise. After an hour of motivational words, laughter, and reflection, Williams closed with a challenge to the students: “Don’t let your dream die,” he said.