GSU Connections: Tyrone Ward
The GSU cohort made a real difference.
As a native of Robbins, Ill. who has devoted his talents to serving the Black community, Tyrone Ward is a firm believer in the difference a strong role model can make. From his 17-year career in the schools to serving as mayor since 2013, Ward, a Governors State University alumnus, has spent his professional life leading by example. And his efforts have been noticed.
In April 2020, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot included Ward among high-profile leaders named to her COVID-19 Recovery Task Force. In August of the same year, the "Chicago Defender" honored him with its “Men of Excellence” award. What has enabled him to make an impact, Ward says, are the two master’s degrees he earned at Governors State—one in Curriculum and Instruction and another in Educational Leadership.
“I strive to be a mentor and educate people by my actions,” Ward said. “I want to be a positive public vessel for all, so I’m focused on what counts: the people.”
Getting to GSU
After graduating from college Ward came back home to Robbins, where he began his career in public service. Over five years, he worked as Personnel Director, Comptroller, Purchasing Agent and Project Manager for the village. In 1992, he was elected to the Robbins Park District Board of Commissioners, then named its President in 1993. When Ward’s friend, a school superintendent, was looking for successful professionals to speak to children, he invited Ward. It went so well that he asked Ward to serve as a substitute teacher. “He told me, ‘It would be great to have a male role model.’ So I did it for a day, and that turned into a week, then a couple of weeks,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m having an impact on students.’"
Ward decided to make a full-time career of teaching. But in order to switch, he needed his certification, and his friend pointed him to Governors State’s College of Education. “I talked to the director of an 18-month certification program, where I’d be part of a cohort. It was a good conversation and I signed up,” Ward said. After earning his master’s in Curriculum & Instruction in 2010, he said, “I went straight from there into the classroom at Kellar Middle School.”
When Ward had a chance to become Dean of Students there, he headed back to Governors State for a master’s in educational leadership, which he earned in 2011.
“It was good. It was a struggle because I was always doing two or three things in addition to going to school. But I wanted to keep moving forward.”
Faculty and cohort connections
“My toughest instructor was Dr. Larry Cross,” Ward said. “He really pushed me, and he had the greatest effect on me on not only doing the work, but doing it to perfection. He wouldn’t accept average.”
His peers supported him then, and sustain him now, Ward said.
“All of us had been in the workforce, and most of us were self-starters,” Ward says of his fellow students. “That made a difference because when you’ve already earned your bachelor’s degree, you understand the responsibility and importance of doing the work. It wasn’t just something you have to do. We understood that.
“And we reinforced each other. The GSU cohort really made a difference because we were all working and we supported each other. Because of that, a lot of us became friends,” Ward said.
In fact, when Ward decided to run for the Village Board and later on, for Mayor, he relied on his fellow classmates for support. “We had bonded, and some of the guys wanted to help me with the campaign. They encouraged me. It was almost like Dr. Cross pushing me again. They’d say, “You can do this. You’ve got to believe in yourself.’"
Running for election is a demanding task, one that means following a seven-day-a-week schedule of events, Ward said. It also puts demands on loved ones, even though their names don’t appear on the ballot. “You have to have a hard shell, and you get it,” he said. “But it’s tough on your family. People don’t realize that.”
Practical lessons still apply
A high-profile position has put Ward in the spotlight, but the lessons of persistence and hard work that he learned at GSU are still valid, he said. “People say, ‘I saw you on TV!’ But what they don’t see is that I work seven days a week. And I’m a hands-on person. I do it all. That’s what keeps me grounded.”
Advice for current Jaguars
“Be mindful of your career choice, and understand what it’s going to take to achieve those goals. Really think it through,” he said. “Once you decide, you have to focus. Going into it, expect pitfalls. If you anticipate them, you can take them better and recognize that failure is part of it.
“Bouncing back is the key. That’s what will enable you to stay on track.”