A comes before ‘B’reakfast

Published 10:32 pm Thursday, April 21, 2005

By By RANDI K. PICKLEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Each year the Niles Community Schools honors its top students who have earned straight As during the first semester of the school year, with an early morning honors program called the "Breakfast of Champions."
This year the breakfast was held at the University of Notre Dame's Joyce Center and featured two guest speakers, Erin Russell, a 2004 graduate of Niles High School and currently a student at Notre Dame, and Keith Carter, a feature reporter for the Channel 22 WSBT News.
The event opened with a welcome by Jim Craig, director of curriculum and instruction for the Niles Community Schools. Craig asked students to think about champions in our society, such as the athletes we consider champions. Then he said, "Our champions are the 154 students that are here."
An invocation from Dr. Ron Wakeman of the First Presbyterian Church in Niles followed the welcome.
Tables which were decorated with balloon and flower bouquets lined the room and were filled with students and parents, who were treated to a buffet breakfast before the speakers took the dais.
The opening speech by Russell was titled "High School to College - Keep On Achieving." In it Russell said, "Colleges are looking for those of you who have taken risks in achieving your personal goals. They want well-rounded individuals. Education is not limited to what is learned in the classroom."
Russell explained that her college experiences have taught her a lot already. "I have learned what it takes to live in a dorm with 300 other women and what it takes to live in a small dorm room with one person. I have also learned not to spend my parents' money on a tattoo," she said.
Russell stressed that "college is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself."
Keith Carter, a 2001 graduate of Northwestern University's School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., spoke about overcoming the odds through determination. He related the fact that as a child he had a speech impediment "up until I reached the sixth grade."
He also had a hard time sitting still. Although his parents suspected his restlessness might be related to Attention Deficit Disorder, his teachers were not always as perceptive. "One teacher duct taped me to my chair," Carter said, "and another teacher told me I'd never make it into college."
Yet through a belief in himself and his abilities, he managed to attend Northwestern University as a pre-med student, later switching his major to journalism.
Carter also reminded the students, who were in seventh through 12th grades, that their world is very protected while they are still living at home. He suggested that their parents and teachers may not always tell them what they want to hear, but those care-givers have your best interests at heart, even when they challenge them to keep moving forward.
He also discussed the need for students to be responsible for themselves, to resist drugs and other unhealthy choices.
Carter also commended the students for being achievers and working hard. "We have a nation that is dying for people like you," he said. "You are a dangerous combination: book smarts and common sense. There is nothing you can't do."
Carter related a story to the students about a bounty hunter that had been chasing a bank robber who had accrued a lot of money. When he caught the robber, he found that the thief could only speak Spanish while he only spoke English. So an interpreter was hired.
The hunter asked the robber, with the interpreter's help, to show him where the money was buried. The thief replied that he had stolen the money fair and square and was not about to give it up.
This conversation was repeated several more times before the bounty hunter pulled out a gun and pointed it at the robber. He asked the interpreter to tell the thief that if he didn't reveal where the money was, he would shoot him on the spot. The thief finally relented and told the interpreter in great detail the location of his hidden money.
But when the bounty hunter asked the interpreter what the thief had said, the interpreter replied, "He said, 'You can shoot him. He's not going to give you the money.'"
Carter left the students with several bits of advice:
"Know who you are and never forget where you came from."
"Remember that your parents and teachers have your best interests at heart."
"When you have problems, make them possibilities."
"Take every day as an opportunity to change someone else's life."
Also honored at the breakfast was Betty Perkins, principal of Niles High School and long time educator, who recently announced her plans to retire at the end of this school year.
She received a standing ovation from the administrators, teachers, parents, and students in attendance.