DeKalb County CEO Michael L. Thurmond will be the 17th speaker in the annual Class of 1953 Lectureship Series on Thursday, April 15. This virtual presentation to the Upper School community will take place during chapel time.
“This is an incredible opportunity for our students to connect with someone who has had an incredible career and has lived a life of service,” said Vicki Vincent, director of alumni relations. “We appreciate Michael Thurmond for taking the time to share his insights with our young people here at Darlington and are grateful to the Class of 1953 for establishing this annual lectureship that has brought so many interesting people to Darlington."
Thurmond, a former member of the Georgia General Assembly and the first African-American elected to a statewide office without prior appointment, is widely regarded as a “turnaround expert” after fundamentally transforming the culture and enhancing operations of complex organizations such as the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, the Georgia Department of Labor, and the DeKalb County School District.
Thurmond was raised as a sharecropper's son in Clarke County, Ga. He graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Religion from Paine College and later earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of South Carolina’s School of Law. He also completed the Political Executives program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
In 1986, he became the first African-American elected to the Georgia General Assembly from Clarke County since Reconstruction. During his legislative tenure, Thurmond authored major legislation that provided more than $250 million in tax relief to Georgia's senior citizens and working families.
Thurmond received a gubernatorial appointment to lead the state Division of Family and Children Services and direct Georgia's historic transition from welfare to work. He created the innovative Work First program, which helped more than 90,000 welfare-dependent Georgia families move from dependence into the workforce.
In 1997, Thurmond became a distinguished lecturer at the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government. The following year, he was elected Georgia labor commissioner.
During his three terms as labor commissioner, Thurmond’s most significant achievement was the construction of a $20 million school for children with disabilities at the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute.
As superintendent of DeKalb schools from 2013-2015, Thurmond is credited with stabilizing the system during a governance crisis, upgrading its threatened accreditation, eliminating a multimillion-dollar deficit, and improving student academic performance and graduation rates.
Also an author and lecturer, Thurmond’s latest book, "Freedom: Georgia’s Antislavery Heritage, 1733-1865," was awarded the Georgia Historical Society’s Lilla Hawes Ward. In 2004, The Georgia Center for the Book listed "Freedom" as one of The 25 Books All Georgian’s Should Read.
He and his wife, Zola Fletcher Thurmond, have one daughter, Mikaya.
The Class of 1953 Lectureship Series was established in 2003 to commemorate the class’s 50th reunion.