KENNESAW, Ga. | Mar 30, 2021
Taron Ragan has faced more than his share of tragedy in his life, but the senior accounting major never let those circumstances stand in his way of working toward his bachelor’s degree at Kennesaw State. Ragan, who will graduate in May, already has a full-time job in hand with Deloitte, a leading national accounting firm, as an audit associate.
Getting that job offer took perseverance and determination, he said. Ragan was involved with the Internal Audit Center in the Coles College of Business and secured three internships during college, but behind his success, he suffered the tragic loss of his younger brother and experienced homelessness while at KSU.
His relentless pursuit to earn a college degree – and become the first in his family to do so – kept him focused, he explained. Raised by a single mother in Fort Valley, Georgia, his family often lacked basic necessities, and when he was 12 years old, his father died from gun violence.
“I never say I went through hardships. I always say I overcame challenges, because it made me better,” Ragan said.
He looks back on his first semester at KSU, having only one pair of black pants and one pair of black shoes, and interchanging shirts for a new look each day. He said he didn’t know if his classmates recognized he was wearing the same pair of pants and shoes each day, but those were the “inspiration for me to keep going and build my foundation at KSU.”
Before he stepped foot on Kennesaw State’s campus, Ragan said he was impressed with the Coles College of Business’ reputable academic programs. In high school, the young entrepreneur refurbished old shoes and resold them, and soon took a serious interest in business.
“This is one of the greatest decisions of my life,” Ragan said about choosing Kennesaw State.
In his second semester, however, Ragan learned that his younger brother, diagnosed with cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus from birth, sustained complications that resulted in irreparable brain damage.
Ragan, the oldest of five siblings, drove to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta every day after class to be at his brother’s side and support his family for an entire semester. While his professors encouraged him to take a break from school, Ragan said he was persistent about staying.
Things didn’t get easier for Ragan, who supported himself financially. His hours were cut at his job and he moved in with his mother to save money and help care for his brother at home. He commuted nearly 90 minutes one way to KSU each day, but a car accident left him without transportation.
Ragan slept on friends’ couches, or, on the days he had nowhere to stay, in his wrecked vehicle that sat inoperative in a parking deck close to campus.
“It’s at these low moments that we find out who we really are,” said Ragan, who later lost his brother in 2019. “Adversity will introduce you to yourself.”
Committed to pushing himself both academically and professionally, Ragan soon landed a full-time job and attended his KSU classes at night. He saved his earnings to sign an apartment lease and purchase a vehicle.
“I networked constantly to build relationships that could open the doors for new employment,” he said, adding that his network skills piqued when he was homeless and needed to find friends.
Struggling, Ragan took advice from a Coles professor and selected accounting as his major, explaining that the discipline, which the professor called the “language of business,” fit him perfectly. He became involved with the Internal Audit Center and today serves as a student mentor.
Over the past 18 months, Ragan secured three accounting internships with companies such as Tidwell Group, UPS and Norfolk Southern and has completed one each semester. He was also invited to share his personal journey with more than 250 UPS employees during his internship and more than 125 people at the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) Atlanta Chapter’s mentoring meeting last summer.
Bill Mulcahy, founding chairman of KSU’s Internal Audit Center Advisory Board, said he was impressed by Ragan after hearing him give the talk at UPS. Mulcahy then recommended Ragan to colleagues at Deloitte, and noted that it often takes personal endorsements to get a student’s resume to the top.
“He is a great communicator, and I'm proud of his progress,” said Mulcahy, who serves as Ragan’s mentor. “I believe the best is yet to come from Taron.”
Professors also have been impressed by the 24-year old’s endurance and commitment.
“Taron showed me how important one’s mindset is in overcoming adversities in life,” said Fred Masci, a part-time instructor of accounting. “He could not change where he started, but he could change his ending.”
Ragan plans to study for the CPA exam this summer after graduation, and he’s already working on his first book. In addition, he has also been invited back to speak to the IIA Atlanta Chapter to speak on his new book later this spring.
Ragan said that he hopes to teach others that anything is possible, no matter the circumstances.
“I was not going to give up on this thing that I knew would change my life and many others around me. It was bigger than me, and it always has been,” he said. “I had this unstoppable determination and I couldn’t give up.”
– Tiffany Capuano and Bianca Isom
Photos by David Caselli
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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.