Speaker shares secrets of success with Dowagiac freshmen

Published 8:00 am Friday, March 28, 2014

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

For the past year, educators with Dowagiac Union High School have emphasized the importance of “grit,” the ability to persevere and succeed under the most dire of circumstances.

On Thursday, a group of 46 freshman students had that lesson reinforced to them in a big way. The students, who were honored for receiving all As and Bs during the third marking period, received a visit from Jerry Fitzpatrick, the regional vice president of Quality Dining, who shared with the students his personal rags to riches story.

Fitzpatrick described growing up with his siblings in the slums of Toledo. His family was so poor that they could only afford to buy powdered milk most weeks, he said. When the family fridge was stocked with a real gallon, it was gone once he or his siblings got ahold of it.

“To make money, we could either steal or we could go to work,” Fitzpatrick said. “And we couldn’t steal because our mom would let us have it if we did.”

Fitzpatrick said he got his first job working as a gas station attendant at the age of 12, claiming he was 16 on his application. From there, he held various other jobs growing up, including working as a janitor at Burger King.

He began working his way up the chain over until he got where he is today. Fitzpatrick now oversees the operations of 165 Burger King restaurants in six states, including the one on M-51 in Dowagiac.

“No one just gave this position to me,” he said. “I don’t know where you can line up to just get a job like this, and I don’t want to know. I want to earn it.”

Fitzpatrick praised the freshmen for their academic accomplishments, saying that by working hard now, they are paving the road to a successful career in the future.

“It’s hard to hit the books when everyone else is out having fun,” he said.

For their accomplishments, the students received commemorative certificates and as well as vouchers for a free combo meal at Burger King.

“You shouldn’t feel like oddballs because you got As and Bs,” he said. “You shouldn’t throw away this piece of paper either. You should frame it to signify the importance of academics in your lives.”

The speech and coupon were the latest rewards given to Dowagiac Union High Students by local businesses, as part of the school’s Youth Earning Success program, put together by Student Advocate Doug Pearson. Burger King joins McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Saylor’s Pizza as sponsors of the program, which is designed to help encourage students to remain committed to their education during their first years in high school.

When Pearson initially approached the local Burger King to get involved with YES, he met with District Manager Jon Aumaugher, who helped connect the school with Fitzpatrick, who offered to come to Dowagiac and speak about the importance of hard work.

“To have Burger King come on board in such a proactive way, it’s a big plus for the program,” Pearson said.

Fitzpatrick said that when he heard of the school’s initiative, he jumped at the opportunity to help out.

“Anytime you can reward kids for positive things like this, it’s wonderful” he said. “Way too many kids drop out of school, and to arrest that it’s not going to take a one-man army. It takes a whole village.”

The students recognized on Thursday were:

Hunter Ayers

Morgan Beach

Theodore Bjork

Katlyn Briney

Matthew Briney

Kaley Brogan

Mackenzie Brooks

Magali Carrillo

Kayla Cromer

Magali Cruz

Emily Dodd

MyKaela Downey

Blake Dudley

Ashley Edgerly

Gabrielle Evans

Katelyn Fennell

Joshua Follett

Nicholas Foote

Joshua Gonzalez

Hailee Green

Joseph Hassle

Mckenzie Hassle

Tyler Hippensteel

Taylor Hulett

Katherine Hurrle

Austin Jones

Abby Klann

Kyra Kuriata

Logan McMeeken

Brett Schultz

Kayland Shepard

Shawn Sirk Jr

Lauren Smith

Megan Soderbloom

Emmaline Sovine

Gabrielle St Cin

Christopher Symonds

Kyle Thies

Isabel Thorne

Valerie Valenzuela

Douglas Vantuyle

Hector Vazquez

Leighann Walker

Hannah Whitaker

Marcus Winchester-Jones