Dr. Eric Thomas stared intently at the packed Merced College Theater and told the audience to write down five names of loved ones.

The nationally-renowned motivational speaker told the 400-plus students, staff and members of the community in attendance that jotting down those names everyday would help keep them focused. It would serve as a reminder of whom they were attempting to achieve their goals for and provide motivation on the days where there was little to be found.

The Hip Hop Preacher spoke for an hour as part of Merced College’s #MCHATEFREE fall speaker series, touching on subjects like privilege, opportunity and accountability. Thomas then signed copies of his books and posed for photos with fans that stayed behind to meet him after the show.

“Just giving them hope is the main thing, and then a blue print that it’s possible,” Thomas said. “It’s not just going to happen because you say it’s going to happen, but if you’re willing to put in the work, if you’re willing to dream, you can do anything that you want to do.

“That’s the message. When you want to succeed as much as you want to breathe, you’ll be successful.”

Included in the crowd were the CalWORKs department and their students, whom helped bring Thomas to the campus, most of the Merced College athletics teams and the Merced and Golden Valley High football teams.

Having grown up in difficult circumstances in Detroit, including a couple years spent living on the streets, and a 12-year journey to finish his Bachelor’s degree, Thomas’ story and message resonates with a number of our students. He said that was part of the appeal of coming to Merced.

“It’s so amazing, all the people you meet,” Thomas said. “Special people all over the world that have your same background, your same values. People that are doing what you’re trying to do.

“So this was a phenomenal event, and I’ll be honest, it really felt like home. It reminded me of the small college I went to and I really hope it won’t be my last time back.”