What A Leader Looks Like

Tommy King ’21, winner of the 2021 Jack Dittrick Leadership Award, wants to help create sustainable change in commercial agriculture systems

May 14, 2021
Tommy King. '21 was given the Jack Dittrick Leadership Award.

The best surprises are those you truly aren’t expecting.

“I was totally shocked,” said Tommy King ’21, who learned just before commencement that he had been given the Jack Dittrick Leadership Award. “I had no idea I was even in the running.”

His professors and Marshall School undergraduate administrators weren’t surprised though. The prestigious award is made every year to a graduating senior who has demonstrated exemplary leadership, vision and passion for the community through their academic record and service as an undergraduate.

As a longtime member of the Marshall Student Ambassadors, King stood out as a natural leader.  Students chosen to become Marshall Ambassadors commit to helping incoming and prospective students understand the many benefits of a Marshall education. King joined as a freshman and was the orgs’ president in his final two years. He credits the group with polishing his public speaking skills. “You do so much presenting, so much speaking on panels, that you have to level up.”

He was also involved with the USC Chapter of Camp Kesem, a nonprofit that engages college students to organize and produce a summer camp each year for children whose parents have been affected by cancer. He served as operations coordinator in his final year. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”

Coming to USC

Born in Orange County, California, his King’s family relocated to Dallas when he was in 7th grade. “For college I was dead set on California,” he said. “I didn’t apply to colleges anywhere else.”  USC, of course, was his dream school. “it’s the best in the west, you could say.”

When he got his acceptance letter, he committed within an hour.

Once he matriculated, he wasted no time in availing himself in every opportunity the school had to offer, starting with his decision to double major.

King is graduating with a double major in business and Spanish. The business is practical—he ultimately wants to create more sustainable, regenerative systems in agriculture. The Spanish is pure personal interest—he fell in love with Mexico City during a stay there in high school while visiting his father who was working there. But he was frustrated that he couldn’t communicate with people.

USC has afforded him the opportunity to travel widely to hone his language skills. He’s been to Cuba, Panama and Chile. He was just getting settled into his semester in Madrid when COVID hit, sending him and his cohort back home early.

King takes a mature view of having to spend the next year and a half at home with his parents. “It was unfortunate that trip had to be cut short. But being at home gave me time and space to focus on myself and what I really wanted to do,” he said “There can be a sort of groupthink at a business school about what you should be doing with yourself, and I think I wanted something a little different.”

He cited Professor of Clinical Entrepreneurship Adlai Wertman, founding director of the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab, for showing him that it was possible to create a career based on impact and service. “Adlai was more than a professor, we became friends,” he said. “He really helped guide me to leading a life with impact. I am grateful for everything he’s taught me.”

Next month, King will move to Fresno to begin a two-year rotational program with Agri-business giant Cargill. “I’ll be in the protein division, learning about supply chain and cattle operations. It will be a great first step toward learning how the system works from the ground up.”

No better way to change the world than to start on the ground. No better person to lead the efforts for sustainable change while feeding the planet.