National hero James Shaw Jr. spoke on the importance of seizing the moment and treating mental health when his life changed after the Waffle House shooting in 2018 where he disarmed a gunman. He was the guest speaker for the Honors Convocation at Dillard University in the Lawless Memorial Chapel on March 26th.
On April 22, 2018, Shaw wrestled and disarmed a mass shooter at an Antioch, Tenn. Waffle House. Four people died, and others were injured, including Shaw, who was grazed by a bullet. The suspect, who had schizophrenia, was committed to a mental hospital and found unfit to stand trial. Although Shaw has been praised for his bravery, along with being honored by BET with the first ever “Humanitarian Award” and by MTC with the “Best Hero Award,” heroism had never crossed his mind.
“[If] your first plan didn’t work, you might have to use your plan B. Because my first plan was to run, but that didn’t work, so I had to use my plan B,” Shaw said, recalling the tragedy. “I will tell you right now that I was not trying to be a hero, I will say that 100 times over.”
The incident showed Shaw that it is always important to react. In that moment, he said he was not thinking of just himself. He said the shooting gave him a different perspective on the value of life.
“I was just trying to live, but me and just trying to live and be selfish actually helped out 17-plus people because the shooter, and a lot of people don’t know this, had 120 rounds…he had discharged 31 bullets in 42 seconds,” Shaw said. “So, the whole incident was just 42-seconds long, but it felt like a lifetime,” he added.
The Tennessee State University alumnus encouraged Dillard students to see excellence in their lives as going beyond academics. He urged them to make a difference for others and to have a greater impact than professional achievements alone.
“Why am I speaking about excellence when you, 250 students have done something I’ve never done in college, which is making the dean’s list,” Shaw told the students. “It’s because excellence goes far beyond scholastic achievements and business ventures.”
“The most important way of displaying and showing excellence is in the way of giving back to the community,” he added.
In addition to his bravery in the Waffle House shooting, Shaw has raised money for the victims of the incident through the James Shaw Jr. Foundation. The theme of the keynote was to always seize opportunities that are given instead of letting them get away. Walter Kimbrough, Dillard’s President, reflected on Shaw’s speech and related it to the lyrics from the Broadway musical, “Hamilton.”
“One song that became popular is called ‘My Shot,’” Kimbrough said. “And ‘When opportunities knock, you don’t send anyone to get it. Answer the door, welcome it, let it in, or regret it,” he recited. Kimbrough motivated students to take on opportunities and to make the most of them just like Shaw did when he disarmed the gunman.
“It just goes to show that normal people can do life-changing [things] and daily commitments that could really change people’s lives,” said Todd Welch, a Dillard student. “You never know what your actions might lead to.”
Graduating seniors were especially moved by the event and plan to continue to use the advice that they were given as they start their professional lives. “I didn’t know who James Shaw was before, but after hearing his story and how he became an accidental hero it really inspired me to seize every moment and take every opportunity and not think that anything happens to me by chance, but it’s by purpose,” said Alexis Granville, a graduating Dillard senior.