Cynthia Marshall UNT Dallas Convocation

A new school year got kicked off in style at Monday evening's New Student Convocation as Dallas Mavericks CEO and all-around firebrand Cynthia "Cynt" Marshall delivered a charismatic and monumental keynote address to a group of UNT Dallas Trailblazers just beginning their college journeys.

Marshall proved to be the perfect guest speaker, as much for her meteoric rise to become one of the most respected businesswomen in the country -- which included retiring in 2017 from AT&T as the telecommunication giant's highest-ranking African-American woman -- as for her determined rise out of poverty, often against all odds. Speaking in the Founders Hall Library to a roomful of students, faculty and staff that included UNT Dallas President Bob Mong, Vice President for Advancement Dr. Monica Williams, Dean of Students Dr. Jamaica Chapple, Vice President for Student Access and Success Stephanie Holley and Student Government Association President Unique Stewart, Marshall quickly grabbed the room's attention with her stories of childhood struggle.

Growing up in poverty in Richmond, Calif., about 12 miles north of Oakland, Marshall pulled no punches telling of hardships growing up in a broken home, amid violence and even often without the confidence of some of those closest to her.

"I knew my dad had this image of what I would become; in fact he had the image of what I would not become," Marshall said. "He never thought we would be successful, thought we’d up in jail or pregnant or dead, like many in my neighborhood. But I had a different image, my educators had a different image, my mother had a different image of what I would become."

Marshall said her mother gave her two books when she was young, a math book and the bible, and told her if she kept her nose buried in both that she would persevere. So Marshall did just that. She studied hard in school, and when she wasn't studying, she was becoming a track star, earning the nickname "Cynt the Sprint." But it was academics that would fuel her success. She earned scholarships to the University of California, Berkeley, and graduated with degrees in business administration and human resources management. She landed a job with AT&T, and quickly began to climb the ranks, ultimately becoming Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer during a 36-year career.

She offered UNT Dallas' newest students sage advice on how to remain focused and committed as they begin to travel down their own pathways to unlimited potential.

"Never compromise your integrity. There is a difference in doing things right, and doing the right thing," Marshall said. "Remember that sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a train; bad things do happen to good people, but accept adversity and never, ever give up."

Several times during her nearly 30-minute speech, Marshall, hired by Mark Cuban in February to transform and optimize the culture of the Dallas Mavericks, Marshall on several occasions had the students standing, cheering and applauding.

She then asked the incoming class: "What will you become by 2022?"