Adam Taliaferro brought fans to their feet when he jogged out of the Beaver Stadium tunnel in 2001, less than a year after he suffered a spinal cord injury that doctors thought might leave the Penn State defensive back without the ability to walk. More than a decade later, Taliaferro is still inspiring Penn Staters. The 30-year-old, who now works as a lawyer, a Gloucester County freeholder and the head of a foundation in his name that assists athletes with spinal cord injuries, was elected to one of three open spots on the university's board of trustees last week. Lions247 caught up with Taliaferro to talk about his plans for his new position and more.
Lions247: When did you first start giving thought to joining the trustees?
Adam Taliaferro: Probably for the last couple years. I had always thought about it but needed to take the initiative to find out more about it. The thought of running didn't happen until I was at the bowl game in Dallas. I was sitting at the game with a friend, a Penn Stater, talking about the board, and he said 'Why don't you run?' I talked to some of the alumni at the event. I really felt like I could make a positive influence on the board.
L247: How did you campaign?
AT: It was very interesting with the campaign and the alumni being spread out all over the place. The best way I could get to people was with the social media -- Facebook, Twitter, getting out different messages to the alumni. I try to do that every night for an hour or two. I tried to get out and meet people when the alumni association had events in the Philly area and events in State College.
L247: What was your reaction to the vote totals (Taliaferro received more than 15,000 votes, far more than any of the other candidates)?
AT: I was amazed and humbled. I had no idea how the vote was going to turn out. I'm just very thankful. When I look back over my life for the past 12 years, Penn State has been so supportive of me in my recovery. I'm thankful for the opportunity. A lot of people put their faith in me. Now I have to show them that they made the right decision.
L247: What do you hope to accomplish as a trustee?
AT: The No. 1 thing I hope going in as a new trustee is just really getting to know everybody on that board. I already know Anthony Lubrano; we've tailgated together at games the last five years, and I certainly want to get to know Ryan (McCombie) and the current trustees. In order for us to work together we have to know each other personally. We want to see transparency and openness. We have to sit down and figure out ways to accomplish that. I reached out to some of the other 83 candidates that were successful. A lot of them had great ideas. I want to bring some of these ideas to the board.
L247: Social media helped you get a spot on the board. Do you plan to use it to help foster more transparency?
AT: One hundred percent. I use Twitter sometimes when I can't watch the news, I check Twitter to find out what's going on in the world. If I can send out a message to what we've got going on with the board of trustees, it's going to reach a lot of people. I want to be accessible to our alumni. That's what I plan to do with Facebook and Twitter. At the end of the day, our alumni want to feel like they're engaged and part of the process.
L247: Bill O'Brien has talked to you about speaking to his team this summer. How many different speaking engagements do you have per month?
AT: I'm usually talking at about two events a week, eight a month. Not just as a motivational speaker; I'm also involved with local politics in South Jersey, so there's various events i have to speak at from time to time.
L247: Is public speaking something that came easily for you right away or did it come with time?
AT: I look back on my life in high school, and I dreaded public speaking. My voice would quiver. But with my injury, I was thrust into it. A lot of people would ask me to speak at schools. Having had the opportunity to do it multiple times, I've become comfortable with it. I was not a poised speaker but I've really worked on it over the last 10 years now.
L247: Do you ever worry you're spreading yourself too thin?
AT: (laughs) A lot has happened for me professionally over the last couple years -- my job, becoming a freeholder. Before I really embarked on each task I took a step back and asked myself if I was going to have adequate time and energy to give these jobs the time they deserve, and I did the same thing with (the trustee position). This is all I plan on doing for the foreseeable future. This is it for me. You won't hear me running for anything else.