May 18, 2007

Why Donít We Celebrate These Kids?

Seems to me that Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich makes a really valid point here Ė while it is great that we celebrate student-athletes for their accomplishments, we really need to be much more serious about honoring the kids who are doing the heavy lifting of education. You know, the valedictorians and other kids who are excelling at the curricular activities of a school, not the extracurricular ones.

Michael Dotson wanted to be his high school valedictorian because he hates to see his mother sad.

He hated how sad she seemed when he was in 7th grade and started making C's and D's instead of A's. So when he entered Julian High School, he vowed to shape up.

"If I didn't have my mother and I was valedictorian, it would be like, so what?" he said Thursday, sitting in an office at the school. He's a heavyset young man with a soft voice who wears baggy jeans and braids his hair.

"When I found out I was valedictorian, I thought: My mother's going to be the happiest person in the world."

And this young man has succeeded in more ways than one.

By junior year, he realized he had a real shot at graduating first in his class. He studied a little harder. He wound up as one of only 17 boys among this year's 86 Chicago public school valedictorians.

The principal at Julian had hoped Dotson would go to Tuskegee, a revered African-American university in Alabama. Dotson, who hopes to be a video game programmer, chose the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, Ariz., a school he discovered at a Navy Pier college fair.

He was sold by the brochure about "geeks at birth" that showed a fetus working at the computer.

Nudged by school officials, he applied to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a scholarship. The day the letter arrived, his mother ripped it open. He hadn't even wanted to apply, knowing the odds were against him.

She shouted for joy.

"I was my calm self," he said. "Then I went into my room and called a friend and started screaming."

I know how hard it is to get one of those scholarships. Weíve had kids at my schools win National Merit Scholarships and other prestigious awards but not make the cut for the Gates awards. This young man has shown his ability, and also his individuality Ė he could have given in to the pressure to pick a college other folks wanted him to attend, but he instead followed his own heart in making that choice.

Yet into Michael Dotsonís life there has come tragedy Ė his mother recently suffered a stroke. But the good news is that she will be there to see her son graduate from high school at the top of his class, a tribute to his effort and her parenting skills.

Its great to see one of these kids get recognition for this ort of success, but it also makes me stop and think about the out-of-whack priorities we set. Last week, one of our alums (a former student of mine) was brought back to campus to give a motivational speech to a group of kids who might charitably be labeled as ďtroubledĒ. He is a starter in the NFL (tagged as his teamís franchise player) and making millions Ė and is someone of whom we are all quite justifiably proud due to his success and his high moral character. And yet no one would ever think of bringing back one of his classmates, the valedictorian who got accepted at MIT and who is now finishing medical school here in town, or his sister who went to Harvard and is now a microbiologist, or his other sister who followed them to academic excellence and who is finishing her final year at Harvard with a degree in science. These young people grew up in the same neighborhood and faced many of the same challenges as that much-admired football player, but for some reason we seem unwilling or unable to hold them up with the same sort of pride and respect for their accomplishments. Why not Ė and what can we do to change that?

OPEN TRACKBACKING AT Outside the Beltway, Is It Just Me?, The Virtuous Republic, DeMediacratic Nation, Adam's Blog, Big Dog's Weblog, Webloggin,, The Amboy Times, Cao's Blog, Colloquium, Jo's Cafe, Right Celebrity, Wake Up America, Stageleft, The Crazy Rants of Samantha Burns, stikNstein... has no mercy, Walls of the City, The World According to Carl, Nuke's news and views, Blue Star Chronicles, The Pink Flamingo, and High Desert Wanderer, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

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