Whether he is 40 miles or 6,000 miles from home, Ja’Quon Williams has one goal in mind — helping the next person in line.
His personal philosophy of bettering himself to better others started in his hometown of Orangeburg, South Carolina.
“I guarantee you in middle school and in high school, I met some of the smartest individuals of my life, but they just didn't see the opportunities that were out there because it’s not advertised to them,” he says.
Williams decided he wanted more for his community than entry-level positions and discount retailers. In high school, he started looking for college programs that would help him gain the knowledge and skills to build up his community.
He researched extensively and ultimately committed to the South Carolina Honors College because of its prestige and reputation. Williams was chosen to be a Carolina Scholar, a selective scholarship awarded to 20 of the top 50 in-state students entering the Honors College each year.
“South Carolina had exactly what I was looking for,” he says. “I have found a home here among intelligent, competitive individuals who feed my academic drive.”
Williams arrived on campus in fall 2019 as an accounting and finance double major. During his first semester, he changed his major four times, finally landing on international business. As an Honors College student, he automatically gained admission to the top-ranked undergraduate program.
The catch? To earn his degree, he would need to master business proficiency in a foreign language. Not one to shy away from a challenge, he took a leap of faith and choose to study an unfamiliar language: Arabic.
“Arabic not only has a unique alphabet system, but it's actually a very beautiful language and the culture is rich,” Williams says.
Eager to make the most of his college experience, Williams began looking for opportunities to practice his language skills and explore international business in a more hands-on way.
Although the deadline to apply for study-abroad cohorts had passed, he was in luck — his academic advisor at the Darla Moore School of Business was the cohort coordinator for IBMENA, an international business program focused on Arabic.
“I came to my advisor with an entire four-year plan of how I could make this work and how I could teach myself Arabic in time if I could just get in,” he says. “She looked at me and smiled and said, ‘Well, we actually have an opening in the cohort.’
“I was like, ‘This is the luckiest I've ever gotten in my life.’”
The pandemic delayed the cohort’s trip abroad, but the extra time enabled Williams to complete an Arabic language intensive study in summer 2020. Finally, in August 2021, he left the country for the first time, heading around the world to study at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.
While in Egypt, Williams learned to conduct business, navigate cultural differences and expand his worldview, both in and out of the classroom.
“The things that we tend to not think twice about are what really make us different,” he says. “You have to have a very open mind to what they may be used to and what you're used to. The way we comingle with each other, it has to come from a place of genuine curiosity and desire to understand.”
Back at Carolina, Williams began applying his business skills and knowledge to help other students by serving as a peer financial consultant in the Student Success Center.
After graduation in December, he will pursue his Master of International Business degree through an accelerated program. He has already accepted a business analyst position with top consulting firm McKinsey & Company following his master’s program, a testament to his continual dedication to excellence.
Looking back, he credits much of his success to the collaborative learning community he’s developed at Carolina.
“The most valuable lesson I've gained is the power of networking,” he says. “Not only has the Moore School done it, but also the Top Scholars program and the Honors College.
“What others can teach you and what they can tell you, the insights they can give you — you would never find that in a textbook.”