My mom passed away on January 15, 1994. I was 17 and it hurt. It still hurts. I cried literally for days. I went to school the day of my mom's funeral. Why? Well, school was normal. All of my teachers and friends were there. While I got tons of hugs that day, there wasn't the overwhelming grief of being at home. My guidance counselor, Dr. Richard Eaton and my class principal, Dr. Lane Narvaez accompanied me to the funeral. When my sisters arrived, I learned that my dad had passed away as well. Dad had lived in California for several years and I didn't know he passed away the previous September. The talk had been for me to reunite with him in some way. It was not to be. I was officially an orphan. I was officially no one's child. After a bit of bouncing around, I moved in with my sister Radett. She lived in the St. Louis suburb of Jennings and I was a Ladue student. That's a no-no. The desegregation program allowed for city to county transfer - not county to county. However, we figured it out through some creative transportation arrangements.
Not long after my mom's funeral, I was called to the college and career office. Brenda Melson was my college counselor. She asked, "Solomon, you graduate in less than six months. What do you plan to do with yourself? Are you going to college? Do you want to go to college?" I told her I did and it's what my mom wanted too. She said, "Well, there are some people who owe me a few favors." She pulled out applications from five different Missouri schools. I filled them out and she told me don't worry about the application fees. She would take care of those. Then came the efforts of the best social studies department ever assembled. Dr. Louise Losos, Lyn Fiscus, Rob Good, Eric Hahn and Jeff Kopolow made sure I stayed on the straight and narrow and kept my grades up. I had class with each of them at Ladue and they didn't abandon me in my time of grief.
Then, there was the greatest teacher of all time - Margie Stelmach. I love that lady. What you're reading today is a direct result of her teaching. She developed me as a writer and I owe every scholarship essay, grant application and blog post to her instruction. I was eventually accepted to Rockhurst University and things were falling into place - except for my finances. The financial aid package from Rockhurst worked fine and I would get into school. The problem was that I'd have no money for books, food or even clothes. Dr. Eaton and Dr. Narvaez came to my rescue again. Now they'll probably never admit it, but on Senior Awards Day, I received the Ladue Scholarship in the amount of $1,000. I never applied for the scholarship and still don't know what the criteria was for receiving it. Dr. Narvaez said something to the effect of it was awarded for pursuing post-secondary education in the face of overwhelming odds or...something. Well, there was my money for books.
I still had the issue of earning money to live on. I'd planned on finding a job once I made it to Kansas City, but job searches can take awhile. Enter Marshall Cohen - the founder of Lift For Life Gym. He was my weightlifting coach and mentor. Marshall found a job for me with a local air conditioning company. They needed strong guys to help install units and they offered full-time employment over the summer. Bingo! My summer job was set. All that was left was graduation. Pat Sanders, who taught my freshman english class and a course in black literature, called me at home one day after school. "Solomon, graduation is coming up and I wanted to know if you own a suit." Her inquiry seemed strange to me. I hadn't given much thought to what I'd wear for graduation. She continued, "My sons wore suits when they graduated and I think a young man should wear a suit on such an important day." Mrs. Sanders picked me up on a Saturday morning and took me to buy a suit. She paid for it out of her own pocket. I didn't understand then how much a suit makes a boy feel like a man. I do now.
You teach or coach a kid right now who needs help. Maybe his or her situation isn't the same as mine was - maybe it's worse. Whatever the case - you are in a position to positively affect the future of a young person. The St. Louis Sports Commission is once again offering its Sportsmanship Scholarship to a deserving St. Louis area high school senior. Scholarship candidates should be nominated for exemplifying the ideals of sportsmanship: honesty, integrity, civility, selflessness, kindness, compassion and class. This year's award has increased to $5,000. Go to sportsmanship.org and download the application packet. You can also read the profiles of previous winners to help guide the process. The scholarship deadline is June 15, 2012. Call 314-345-5130 or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or concerns. As for me, the work of all those teachers, principals and coaches paid off in a big way. Until next time...
Be a Good Sport!
|Rockhurst University Commencement - 1998|