Address to the 8th Grade Class at Nebinger Elementary School in Philadelphia

I am absolutely honored to be here today.  Graduations at any stage in your life present a challenge and an opportunity.  Because of the growth of Social Media I am about to meet with some classmates from Saint Rita’s Elementary School that I graduated 8th grade with in 1977.  I know a few of you were at least one year’s old then.  I look forward to catching up with some individuals that I have not seen in person since I was thirteen.

The world has changed in many ways since then.  There are innovations in technology which I could only dream of when I was growing up.  There was a show called the Jetson’s on when I was younger.  It was one of my favorites.  It featured the interactive application now called Skype.  A person could call another person on the phone and see them live.  It wasn’t available back then.  I can imagine what the future will bring for you.  They already have Google glass which allows you to read your computer while walking down the street.  I think that this is particularly dangerous due to the current dangers that people experience while driving and texting.
I am old fashioned when it comes to books.  I hope that reading and learning remain a big part of your ambitions.  We currently have kindles and nooks that have given a challenge to the book publishing industry.  There is still what is called a digital divide now that affects who can access the internet.  If you are not fortunate enough to have access to the latest in technology, please do not underestimate the value of a Library card.  I have begun to document some of the many books I have read in my life.  I am up to over 165 documented books and growing. Reading is a great escape and can provide many hours of enjoyment when a movie or television is not in the picture.

Try to use this summer to understand some of your strengths and weaknesses.  Most of your teachers have probably recommended high schools and potential career choices based on their interactions with you.  Today’s job market is very competitive and you need an edge to make yourself stand out.  I think that you need to be bilingual.  Some of you in this graduating class are.  I also think it is important to have a trade.  I learned how to install electrical outlets while working with my Dad.  I can save money around my house by painting and completing basic cement repairs.  Also, it seems like many individuals with a background in IT will be an advantage in this technological world.

 I grew up in South Philadelphia.  I played Basketball at Barratt Schoolyard.  I played Baseball at Vare Recreation Center.  I played Football at Capitolo Playground.  I mention these activities because I was guided by coaches and mentors that did their best to keep me off of the streets.  I was involved in Youth in Government programs with the YMCA.  I also participated in the American Foundation for Negro Affairs.  I had no problem being involved in positive social activities when I was in grade school and high school.  Social Media today can sometimes be dangerous.  Watch what you post on your pages.  Keep curse words to a minimum.  Stay away from flash mobs at all costs.

I would not necessarily say that times are tougher today than they were when I was growing up in South Philadelphia.  There are more guns available and all of us in this room worry about you and the safety of all of you.  I also work on a Prevention Coalition to address substance use among 14 – 18 year olds.  I understand as a young person some of the challenges that will face you as you begin this next journey in your life.  Don’t let any recent discussions about legalizing marijuana fool you or anyone in this room.  It is a drug that is dangerous to young minds and can seriously stunt your physical and social growth.

I am particularly impressed by the story of Kwasi Enin.  This 17 year old young man is the product of public high schools in New York.  He scored 2250 out of a possible 2400 on the SAT’s.  He applied to and was accepted at all 8 Ivy League schools:  Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Princeton and Cornell.  I can imagine the discipline and hours that it took to achieve this success.  I understand that this might be something that you are not thinking about as you finish 8th grade.  But I challenge you to Dream and Dream Big.  Begin to look at qualifying for scholarship money as a job.  There are students that are trying to get an education here from all over the world.  You have a chance now to pave your own way to success.

In closing, I also want you to have some fun this summer.  Being an adult is something I worked hard for.  My wife and I are raising two beautiful children.  I recently became a Grandfather.  But what I wouldn’t do right now to be able to go on a field trip to the Lakes and hop in the pool.  Or sit in the movies and watch three or four different showings at the multiplex.  Or ride my bike up to Logan or to West Philly to play ball for hours.  I did those things and it helped to make me a well-rounded individual.  Don’t measure your success by what you have materially.  It is not about the clothes you wear or the car your Mother or Father drives.  The two ideals that will help you to reach an undeniable level of success are persistence and determination. 

June 18th, 2014

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