KSU Graduate Finishes With Help From Family, Benefactors
KENNESAW, Ga. (May 9, 2017) —
Thomas Busby of Acworth will wear a cap and gown like countless other Kennesaw State University graduates today and tomorrow during the university’s spring commencement.
But Busby would not be graduating summa cum laude without the help of a kind Cobb County couple who saw his potential.
Tom and Betty Phillips of east Cobb will join Busby’s family during his commencement ceremony this morning to celebrate a job well done.
Busby has been serving Tom Phillips at the Outback Steakhouse on Barrett Parkway for more than 10 years, but their relationship deals with more than just a steak.
Busby has been working at Outback since 2002 and has developed relationships with a few regular customers, including the Phillips family. Tom Phillips is the owner Tom M Phillips Oil Company in Jasper and is a WellStar Health System Board of Trustees member.
Busby said Tom Phillips does not always order the same meal off the menu, but one day, Phillips really changed up his order.
After Busby’s wife Katie, a teacher at Milford Elementary School, gave birth to their twin boys Knox and Rush in 2012, Tom Phillips asked Busby about his plans and suggested he return to Kennesaw State University.
Busby graduated from Sprayberry High School in 1999 and attended Floyd College — now Georgia Highlands College — from 2002 to 2003. He was accepted at KSU in 2005 but was unsure of a career path, so he stopped attending classes.
After Phillips planted the idea in Busby’s mind, Busby reapplied to KSU and was accepted.
“I don’t want to train (my sons) at Outback,” Busby said.
After sharing the news with the Phillips at Outback and grabbing a few things from the kitchen, Tom Phillips had news for Busby: the Phillips would pay for all of Busby’s education at KSU if he passed and graduated at no charge to Busby. If Busby failed or quit, he would owe them every penny.
“I don’t ever think he’s joking,” Busby said. “He doesn’t joke around about things like that.”
Tom Phillips said he and his wife have helped about 22 students pursue higher education at institutions including Georgia, Stanford, Dartmouth College and KSU — but never to the extent they have helped Busby.
He said he knew Busby had the mental aptitude to succeed, and he had the means to help him. Therefore, Phillips decided to challenge Busby.
Phillips said he and his wife built someone up they knew would succeed. He said Busby’s time at KSU totaled about $40,000.
A FRESH START
In 2013, Busby returned to KSU as a more mature student with a family and someone holding him accountable. Trying to uphold his end of the bargain, Busby did more than just pass his classes: He is graduating with a 4.0 GPA under the Coles College of Business. He is also the first college graduate in his family.
“I figured the best thing I could do was try to do the best that I could,” he said. “It does help when you’re being held accountable.”
With a focus in marketing, Busby excelled in his business classes, including advanced accounting courses, but he said marketing was the best fit for his personality.
Tyra Burton, Kennesaw State University marketing and professional sales senior lecturer, said Busby always went the extra mile in order to fully learn and understand class material.
Busby was her student in four classes, and Burton said he was “always on the ball.”
With about 40 to 50 students enrolled in her classes, Burton said Busby was a leader in group work as well as “absolutely gifted” with marketing.
Burton said Busby was the type of student she was lucky to have in her classes and the type of student teachers want more of.
Busby’s course load ranged from nine to 12 hours each fall and spring semester, and he took six to nine hours of classes during the summer. Retaining his job at Outback and taking care of his sons while enrolled at KSU, Busby and his family had a lot to juggle while he was a student.
“It was a whole lot,” he said. “It’s been crazy.”
As one of the older students in each of his classes, Busby said his life experiences made him want to focus and helped him see the importance of his education and an eventual college degree.
In Dec. 2014, Busby was inducted into the Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society — a society that requires business students to be ranked in the top 10 percent of their class.
CONTINUING TO GROW
As Busby’s graduation day grew nearer, Phillips said his enthusiasm “bubbled up.”
Now that the day has come and Busby has turned in all his coursework and completed his finals, he is looking for new ways to continue to advance himself.
“I’ve been at full throttle for the past three years now, and all of sudden it’s (over),” Busby said.
He is currently interested in earning his commercial real estate license but is open to working in advertising or sales.
Phillips said Busby is smart, hardworking and needs an opportunity to prove himself in a professional capacity.
Regardless of his next career path, Burton said she is proud that Busby will be forever connected to KSU as an alumnus. She said he is the type of person she wants to succeed with this kind of opportunity.
"I figured the best thing I could do was try to do the best that I could. It does help when you’re being held accountable."
Spread throughout five ceremonies, more than 2,800 Kennesaw State University students will graduate with pomp and circumstance Tuesday and Wednesday.