“What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?” Maj. Andrew Fingall asked the gathered crowd in the Port St. Joe High School gymnasium on Monday morning.
The room, which had been filled with chatter minutes earlier, was silent for a few seconds as those in attendance took some time to mull his question over.
“I was sitting in Afghanistan, and I picked up a Reader’s Digest, and on the cover, it said ‘the best advice I’ve ever gotten,’” he said. “From that day, I’ve been asking folks ‘what is the best advice you’ve ever had?’ So I started doing some reflections, and I started thinking, ‘what’s the best advice I’ve ever received?’”
Fingall, who was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on Tuesday, had been invited to the school to be the keynote speaker in this year’s Black History Month Program, which is hosted annually to recognize the central role of African Americans in U.S. history.
He was born in Grenada and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and Irvington, New Jersey, where he was introduced to basketball, a sport that would have major bearings on his life.
He would go on to play for George Mason University, then spend a few years playing professionally abroad before joining the Air Force in 2002 and being deployed to Afghanistan.
Now, he works to ensure proper management of all financial functions of the 325th Fighter Wing, based at the Tyndall Air Force Base.
Further, Fingall is a member of a team working with other government agencies in an ongoing mission relocate his former Afghan counterparts to a safer environment following the U.S. withdrawl from Afghanistan in August, 2021.
Fingall’s path to his current position has not been traditional, he said. Along the way, much of the advice he had received resonated with him.
He shared with the audience.
“Don’t be comfortable. You guys have an opportunity right now to be the very best students, dream big, and do some amazing things. But don’t stay comfortable. Don’t do the things that are not going to challenge you,” he said, closing his speech.
“… I don’t want you guys to be unprepared or unqualified for a situation that can be your finest hour.”
The room erupted into applause as Fingall stepped down from the podium. It was several minutes before the chatter died down enough for the program to continue.
A video describing different Black fraternities and sororities was played. Then, Port St. Joe High School Principal Sissy Godwin stepped up to the podium to close the program.
She thanked all of the programs’ speakers and encouraged the students to reflect on Fingall’s speech before dismissing them to second period.
Members of the community slowly trickled out of the gym at the program’s end, taking a few minutes to catch up and talk about the speeches. Some attended a reception hosted in the school’s library afterwards to continue their conversation over a meal.