Speaker encourages students to use their gifts and find their purpose

By Diane VanDyke
Frederick (Freddy) Shegog shares his story about his recovery from addiction and mental illness and encourages students to use their gifts and find their purpose through education.

Frederick (Freddy) Shegog shares his story about his recovery from addiction and mental illness and encourages students to use their gifts and find their purpose through education.

Thinking about how to build a legacy is not on most students’ minds when they are in college, but it was the question posed by inspirational speaker Frederick (Freddy) Shegog during his online presentations on Dec. 1 and 2.

“What is your legacy? Why are you here?” said Shegog, who speaks at venues across the country, encouraging students to think about their individual gifts and how they can use them to make a difference.

Christine Morris, Act 101 & GEAR UP Program Coordinator, invited Shegog to MCCC after she heard him speak at a conference.

“When I met Freddy, I had recently lost a student to overdose and was working with other students in recovery,” Morris said. “After hearing how Freddy used his resources to overcome his challenges and succeed in his education, I knew that we had to share his story with our students.”

Before he was a speaker, there was a time in his life when Shegog found himself sleeping next to a dumpster with mice running over his feet. Homeless, he used the dumpster as his source for food. It was, as he openly admits, a point in his life where he hit rock bottom after struggling for years with addiction and untreated mental illness, and he knew he didn’t want to stay there.

He started his recovery by going to a treatment center and then to a half-way house. Although he had been through rehab numerous times before, this time was different.

“When I was in rehab, I counted the days I was sober, but then I realized I wanted to stop counting, and instead, make my days count,” he said.

After a year of being sober, he enrolled at a community college to start his education.

“I waited a year because I knew I needed a healthy foundation first,” he said, explaining that such a foundation includes taking his psych medications; seeing a therapist; eating a healthy diet; practicing meditation, prayer and yoga; and being in a good relationship. “I entered class ready to go.”

However, one of his first classes was English 025, a remedial English course.

“I felt dumb – I was a 33-year-old taking remedial English with 18 year olds,” he said. That class, however, eventually changed the path of his career.

For one of his first assignments, he wrote about his story of recovery, and his professor submitted it to “The Philadelphia Inquirer” where it was published.

“I started getting emails and phone calls, thanking me for sharing my story,” he said. “I realized that my story could help others. My success was not just for me.”

The community college also featured him as the cover story for its magazine, further adding to his sense of obligation and responsibility to use his experience to help others who were struggling.

It also caused him to raise his own standards as a student.

“If my paper wasn’t good enough to be published, it wasn’t good enough to be graded,” he said, describing how he worked harder and made a point of connecting with his professors when he needed guidance.

Shegog graduated from community college with his associate’s degree in communications and a 3.71 GPA. He was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, an All-PA Academic Scholar, a Pennsylvania Black Conference on Higher Education Scholar, an Ammon Recovery Scholar and a Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise Scholar.

Currently, Shegog is a student at West Chester University where he plans to get his bachelor’s degree in communications. After getting his master’s degree, he wants to help others in recovery get the support they need.

Before he put on his cap and gown to accept his associate’s degree, though, he had his first national speaking engagement to share his story—an experience that launched his motivational-speaking company, The Message LLC, in 2018.  Since then, he has spoken at several schools and colleges, as well as conferences, and even was interviewed by Fox 29 News.

There were times at conferences, though, when he noticed he was the speaker with the “smallest resume.” However, he used those opportunities to learn from other professionals, instead of feeling intimidated.

“You have to use your resources and network with people to change your life,” he said. “Ask yourself, ‘what is your legacy,’ what can you do to help the next generation better. I believe in you because I’m just like you.”

The students who attended the online presentation thanked Shegog in the Zoom comment box for his “inspiring speech” that was “empowering.” Several were appreciative of his transparency with his struggles and doubts.

Shegog’s first presentation on Dec. 1 was addressed to faculty and staff.

“When our spring event was postponed due to COVID, Freddy and I decided to offer two sessions, one for students and one for faculty and staff,” said Morris. “We wanted those supporting our students to hear about the impact their work has on their students. We didn't realize how important that message would be during this time of COVID and online learning.”

Morris received a lot of positive feedback about his powerful, motivational presentation.

“Thank you for putting together this motivational speaker presentation,” said one employee. “It was nice to hear Freddy's story, especially during this time with the pandemic... any bit of positivity and a good story helps keep us going! I will certainly keep his story in mind when working with students.”

“Thank you for making sure I was on the invite to hear from Freddy today,” said another employee. “It was truly inspirational, encouraging and at some points, relative. This presentation was a breath of fresh air and confirmation to the importance of the work we all do each and everything.”