The Starr of the show

The untold tales of Willie Starr

For some, college is a time for self-discovery. For others, going to college means finding the love of your life or earning a degree to later work at your dream job. Rarely do students go into college with the idea that they will make history. The same could be said for Willie Starr who went to college for basketball, but left college with a greater life lesson that he has carried for over 40 years. 

Willie Starr is originally from Nacogdoches, Texas. He attended Nacogdoches High School and after graduation attended Howard College. He went to Howard to play basketball and later transferred to Tarleton State University where he went on to make history.  

Aside from the normal hurdles that come with being a college athlete, Starr’s biggest struggles included the lack of social events and activities available for black students. At the time, there was only one club option available for black students. The social club brought the students closer together and made their college experience more enjoyable. Starr’s favorite part about being in college was living the college life. 

Starr’s plan for college never included graduating with two degrees. In fact, he was set to graduate with one until a professor pointed out to him that he only needed one internship and one more class to earn a second degree. During his time at Tarleton, Starr pursued a Bachelor of Science in sociology with an emphasis on juvenile delinquencies and a Bachelor of Science in social work. In December 1981, Starr made history as the first student to graduate with multiple degrees. 

What should have been a monumental moment in Tarleton history turned out to be less than celebratory. In May of 1981, another student, one of caucasian descent, graduated from Tarleton with three degrees. This seemed to make waves at Tarleton as the student’s accomplishment was praised on a variety of media sources. For Starr, going unrecognized the first time was already hard enough, but watching a white student be publicly praised and honored left him feeling underappreciated. 

“I have no problem admitting that for years, I was mad and bitter. Now, it’s just not that big of a deal. There was a part of me that had to just say “I accomplished this, I did it.” No one can question my credentials because I earned it,” Willie Starr said. 

After graduation, Starr worked for the county for three months helping them get caught up on probation cases. He then went into property management where he worked for over 25 years. He worked with as many as 625 units to as small as 72. Starr’s love for helping others sprouted from watching his parents work in fields of service. His father was a minister while his mother worked in a hospital. In addition to being his earliest role models, Starr’s parents were also his biggest fans. Between the love and support he received from his family and the years of being unrecognized, Starr has a new appreciation for the education system. 

“Your purpose for being at Tarleton is to get an education. There will be plenty of time to socialize after you leave. Once you get that piece of paper in your hands, nobody can take that away from you,” Starr said. 

Not only were his parents supportive, but seeing him graduate with two degrees made them beyond proud. Aside from making them proud, Starr made himself proud. 

“We never really appreciate what we have until afterwards when we stop and look back over it. I don’t know how it would have probably changed my life if Tarleton had recognized me in the same manner that they recognized the gentleman that graduated in May with three degrees. What I do know is that by not doing it, I now know that I don’t have to be validated by someone else for what I do. I don’t have to have it publicized as long as I know that I accomplished it,” Starr said. 

Now, Starr spends his days enjoying retirement and watching his three sons chase their dreams. In addition, he now serves as a professional community activist to help other members of the black community feel seen and heard. His years of service and the lack of recognition  are what have made him the man he is today. Congratulations Mr. Starr on your many accomplishments and years of activism.