Friday, May 31, 2013

UCHS 2013 Valedictorians Celebrate their Classmates, Teachers, and Alma Mater

Last night was commencement for the University City High School class of 2013.  Almost 200 seniors and their families filled the Chaifetz Arena on the campus of St. Louis University to celebrate their accomplishments and step forward into the great unknown that is their future.  UCHS had four Valedictorians (students with 4.0 GPAs or higher) this year: Ethan Farber, Sam Polzin, Dan Politte, and Anna Soifer.  They delivered an outstanding speech highlighting their classmates and paying homage to their alma mater, and although you really needed to be there to get the full effect, here is the text for you to enjoy.

A: When
D: we
E: were
S: told
A: we'd
D: each
E: be
S: valedictorian,
A: we
D: were
E: given
S: two
A: options:
D: give
E: separate
S: speeches,
A: or
D: a
E: combined
S: speech.
A: We
D: chose
E: to
S: combine.
A: My
D: name
E: is
S: Anna
A: A--oh.
D: Um....
E: Maybe
S: we
A: should
D: just
E: go
S: with
A: Plan
D: B.
E: (steps forward and clears throat)

In preparation for this speech, a speech that was to pay tribute to teachers, classmates, accomplishments, and memories with such an artistic and touching flair as to be applauded by everyone, the four of us got together for an intense writing session. Our only goal, aside from blowing you all away, was to not fall prey to the trite, overused cliches of valedictorian speeches past, including but not limited to: good times, bad times, friends, enemies, embarrassing moments, saying we'll never forget each other, saying it again, crying a little bit, annoyingly long lists, etc. And, after trying to navigate through these roadblocks, we came to the realization that not being cliche is practically impossible. But the reason it's impossible is not because we're incapable, or because nothing grand and unforgettable ever happened for our class; it's because we can't sum up our U. City experience in one, or even four, speeches. There's just too much to say, and not enough of us up here to say it.

To adequately explain what U. City has been to us, has meant for us these past four years, it would be necessary to invite the entire class up here, for every single one of us has had a unique experience which we are supremely incapable of generalizing in one speech. We realize that we have been honored with this seemingly impossible task because we are talented academically. For us, it is no big deal to memorize a chart of trigonometric derivatives or to write a scholarly analysis of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. However, if you were to ask me to run eight miles, or Ethan to do a pirouette; if you wanted Dan to draw a realistic portrait or Sam to sing and dance in Footloose, you would be sorely disappointed. In light of this, we thought it only fitting that while standing here, being recognized for our accomplishments in the academic arena, we should recognize those students in our class who have sacrificed much of their time, and probably a couple of grades, pursuing excellence in a wide variety of accomplishments. Our class, the class of 2013, is a veritable diamond mine of talent, and many of our diamonds have been uncovered, cut, and polished, their beauty exposed for all the world to see. We have dancers, four in fact, Cameron, Jordan, Daphne, and Dontel, whose sparkles have caught the eye of the dance world and who have all been recognized by Dance St. Louis for their abilities. We have athletes like Merinda, whose shining performance both on the field and in school led her to be named one of the 150 scholar-athletes of the St. Louis area. We have musicians like our drummer, Zach, whose dazzling performances both in jazz and marching band have won him wide acclaim. We have students like Abby, whose skills on horseback have allowed her to represent the United States in international competitions. I know I’m missing people; I know that there are many more extraordinarily talented people in our class than those few that I just named, but to fully recognize every talented person, every diamond, we would again have to invite the entire class up here with us. Where would this treasure trove of talent be, however, without the miners, gem cutters, and jewelers employed by U. City High? These people, teachers and administrators, coaches, directors, and counselors, are the ones that exposed our talents to the light of day, the ones who cleaned and polished, who nagged and yelled, but without whom, all these talents might still be lying latent, hidden beneath the surface. At times we hated them, hated the innumerable essays, the lengthy rehearsals, the unending practices, but without them we would be nowhere. Over our four years here, they have provided us, out of the generosity of their hearts, with myriad incredible opportunities that have allowed us to grow into the young adults you see here before you.

Many of these opportunities varied over our four years in which we saw three different principals. This year, however, I think it is safe to say we could hold our heads higher due to our restored confidence that U. City High offers students an environment on par with schools around St. Louis, all with the help of one man. Many might call him a hero; some may say a selfless leader. He came to us in our time of need, a symbol for hope, a symbol of strength under the guise of a mask, and his name is…Batman…? Oops, sorry, wrong speech. His name is Mr. Maclin. Mr. Maclin, although not Batman, came to U. City with a belief that the class of 2013 and the whole student body deserved the best, because he recognized our potential as students and as leaders. Mr. Maclin saw the talents that the teachers of U. City High had been nurturing, and he was determined to give us opportunities to showcase them. I was fortunate to have had the chance this past winter to participate in one of Mr. Maclin’s all-expense paid events, as I was able to see Barack Obama’s second inauguration alongside 25 of my classmates. The trip was an incredible experience, even though I was taken advantage of by the media. Probably not the most noteworthy aspect, but definitely memorable for all who attended, are the ridiculously obnoxious yellow sweatshirts we had to wear whenever we were in public. Such a thing would be a travesty to the fashion conscious person, but we came to embrace those blindingly bright sweatshirts. While we thought the hoodies were an embarrassment and Mr. Lewis told us that they were to identify us in a crowd, I believe Mr. Maclin ordained the sweatshirts in order to announce to the world that U. City was in Washington DC. It is from this experience that I will try to offer a small bit of insight: class of 2013, as we prepare to go out into the real world, where we can no longer hide behind Mr. Maclin—which, admittedly, he has recently made more difficult—we should all put on our bright yellow sweatshirts. We should let the world know that the class of 2013 is ready to compete, and we should seek to stand out in every crowd. Just as Mr. Maclin came to U. City with a vision to expose greatness in every individual and to showcase the talents of U. City students, we will have the chance in the coming years to proudly brandish our experiences at U. City High for everyone to see and to follow the example Mr. Maclin has set to become fearless leaders who not only embrace change but, more importantly, find a way to make it happen.

On that note, we can consider what this time at U. City has been preparing us for. It is time, after all, to start anew. But what does that mean, exactly? What are we going to do in the lives ahead of us?
I’m not trying to give anyone advice about where we go from here. Because let’s face it: we’re all in the same boat; I certainly don’t have any more ability to say than any one of you. We’ll just leave the advice-giving to more qualified people, people with more experience. All I want to do and, I admit, all I can do, is share with you in the feeling of moving on, the wonder at what the future holds. Because we really don’t know. Yes, we’ve made plans, to go to that college, that university, that technical school, to work that job. Do we really know, though, where we’re going, what the destination is? We have plans, but nothing is set in stone. The world is open before us, and who knows where we’ll end up? Okay, that sounds really cliche. But so many cliches are relevant to our situation. You know, a thousand miles, a single step, the possibilities are endless, a new chapter beginning, etc. We’ve all heard them, maybe thought in terms of them. This is why we couldn’t entirely get away from cliches today: they hold too much cheesy truth.
So today we can bask in the fading glow of our time at U. City High School, and look forward to the future. Whatever we do, class of 2013, I’m sure that it will be amazing.


As we bring to a close this valedictorian speech, our final farewell to friends and classmates, I am reminded of a bit of wisdom posed by a dear friend of mine. She said that the reason we as humans create so many videos, take so many pictures with our smartphones, and record every little bit of life that we possibly can is that we are afraid to lose anything to the vast whirlpool of eternity. These are the last words that I will say to you all as a fellow U. City Senior, and before I stop talking, I'd like to make a memory. If it's a quick picture I want, I brought my phone, but the administration has warned me against disrupting the ceremony, and has advised me that it should be stored in my locker and out of sight at all times. I guess I'll have to try something else. A friend suggested that I end this speech with an auditorium-wide Harlem Shake, but that's not me, and we've already tried several times in the past week and failed--and my parents would kinda kill me. So that's out. Let's see; I could have you all sit for a portrait, but something tells me that asking 200 teenagers to sit still is a task for Mr. Maclin, not for me. I already have at least five different videos of this moment to choose from, courtesy of my family trying desperately to find my best side--don't worry, guys, it's this one--so that leaves with just one option; the oldest form of record-keeping and memory-storing: a quote, a quote that I've invested with my own meaning. Forgive me if I slip into Latin for just a little while. The people on this stage; the people in the crowd; the people who aren't in this auditorium, but in our hearts instead. You are my friends: mei amici. You are my family: mea familia. And although we've made it a point of avoiding cliches throughout this speech, from the bottom of my heart do I say these words to each and every one of you sitting before me. The quote I have in mind is also Latin, and it was written 2057 years ago by Marcus Tullius Cicero, the greatest Roman orator. Cicero said, "nostrae amicitiae memoriam spero sempiternam fore." I hope that the memory of our friendship will last forever. And I think it will. It's that time, U. City: time to say goodbye to the people and hello to the memories; time to go home to our pictures and videos. But I think I'm leaving something out, U. City. Could you tell me what it is? What time is it?

(At which point the entire audience responded with a resounding, "U. Time!" of course)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Choir of Angels

Jordan Jones, a fifth-grader at Barbara C. Jordan Elementary School, has been selected to sing with the St. Louis Children’s Choir.

The St. Louis Children’s Choir offers young artists world-class performance opportunities and a choral music experience that emphasizes musical excellence and character education. Approximately 500 singers (ages 6 to 18) from more than 230 schools in Missouri and Illinois share their gifts and talents on stage.

Jordan Jones
 Because of his excellent abilities, the choir director recommended that Jordan audition to sing in the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis new opera “Champion.” Champion was inspired by the true story of Emile Griffith, a world welterweight champion boxer. Jordan won a slot in the production, and is scheduled to sing several times in June.

There are other U. Citians in the choir as well. UCHS sophomore, Andrew White,  was just promoted to a different ensemble. Since he joined the choir, Andrew will have sung in every possible ensemble with the choir, from Music Makers to Chamber Singers.

Andrew has been in the choirs since second grade, and has sung with the choirs regularly at Powell Hall, the Sheldon, the Touhill and other St Louis venues.  He has also toured with the Concert Choir to New York, Nashville and Scotland, singing at Carnegie Hall, the Grand Old Opry, and St Giles Cathedral. 

Andrew says being in the choirs is a great way to make friends from other schools in the area. He also remarked that the standards set by the choir are very high, and students learn how to exhibit professionalism on and off the stage.
The St. Louis Children's Choir is auditioning now for the fall season.

There is also a summer camp for students entering Grades 3-6: (no audition necessary for the camp).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Brittany Woods Inducts 52 Students into the National Junior Honor Society

Fifty-two Brittany Woods Middle School students were inducted into the National Junior Honor Society May 16, 2013. 

Students were selected based on the characteristics of scholarship, citizenship, character, service and leadership. Each student took the following pledge, "I pledge myself to uphold the high purpose of the society to which I have been selected, striving in every way, by word and deed, to make its ideals the ideals of my life."

The new members of Brittany Woods NJHS 

As part of the application process students are required to write two essays. One essay is the nominee's idea for a service project to serve their fellow students. The second essay communicated how the nominee met the five NJHS characteristics. Nominees also had to submit their history of community service and extracurricular activities.

Congratulations to the following honorees: Layla Agha, Louis Barnes, Elijah Ballard, Christy Bell, Logan Black, Kaya Blount, Aireecye Bonner, Givion Crawford, Bella DeArmitt, Cooper Deitzler, Victoria Dickerson, Lauren Green, Andrew Guest, Noah Greenberg, Madison Henderson, Michael Henderson, Rowan Hoel, Andrew Immer, Alona Jenkins, Dariana Johnson, Caitlyn Kirksey, Victoria Little, Thomas Looby, Cecilia Mattli, Kayla Merrill, Jade Merriwether, Jonah Payne, Calin Peterson, Cheyenne Poland, Olivia Pomranka, Sade Price, I’Aiyana Redden, Rebecca Rico, DeAra Robinson, Nashir Robinson, Cabria Shelton, Ben Shostak, Linsey Sparks, Kaylin Taylor, Teagan Thomas, Phoebe Thoroughman, Briton Toth, Dominic Torno, Imani Walker, Jahiem Watson, Zhong Mei Webb, Leanne Whitney, Jessica-Carol Wilbur, Claudia Zegel, Christa Zhang, Peter Zhang  and Leah Zukosky.

Chapter officers for 2012-13 include President Daniel Pomerantz, Vice President Johanna Hill, Secretary Samantha York, Treasurer Torren Brown and Historian Jamie Conners.

Wu Bakeman serves as the NJHS advisor at Brittany Woods.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Jolly Good Time

Whether you call it JamBearee or Jamboree, the annual end-of-year Jackson Park carnival is a 25-year plus school tradition.

My daughter at JamBearee, circ. 2004
(yes, that is a real baby camel)
JamBearee has evolved over the years. What used to take place on the blacktop behind the school, now takes place on the front lawn and circle drive.

And thanks to current management (that would be PTO president extraordinaire, Joycelyn Barnes), it practically looks like a professional production.

This year, even rain couldn't delay the start of the carnival. After all, that is what umbrellas are for.

Then the sun came out and dancing ensued.

There was face painting and fire trucks, hamburgers and bounce houses.
Tons of fun with friends, and the prizes were pretty awesome too.

It may be her last year as an official Jackson Park student, but I have a feeling my daughter will be back to carry on the tradition next year.
My daughter's last JamBearee, circ. 2013
(My, how she has grown)


Duke TIP State Recognition

Every year, as part of the Duke Talent Identification Program (Duke TIP), Brittany Wood seventh graders have the opportunity to take either the ACT or the SAT test along with all the high school students preparing for college.

Of the seventh graders who chose to take one of the tests this year, Ethan Braeske, Alan, Buckner, Catherine Hoff and David White were named recognized for doing as well or better than 50% of all students who took the ACT nationally.

David White, Catherine Hoff, and Alan Buckner and their families
being recognized by the School Board for their academic excellence.

Students invited to a state ceremony meet at least one of the following criteria:

ACT English ≥ 20
ACT Math ≥ 20
ACT Reading ≥ 21
ACT Science ≥ 21
* Or with three of the four following scores English = 19, Math = 19, Reading = 20, Science = 20

SAT Math ≥ 520
SAT Critical Reading ≥ 510
SAT Writing ≥ 500
*Or with two of the three following scores: Math = 510, Critical Reading = 500, Writing = 490

The Duke TIP was founded in 1980 and is dedicated to the cultivation and education of talented youth. Duke TIP's 7th Grade Talent Search identifies academically promising 7th graders based on standardized test scores achieved while attending elementary or middle school. Candidates are then invited to take the SAT® or the ACT® as 7th graders, which allows them greater insight into their academic abilities.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shakespeare in the Gym

Shakespeare in the Park opens May 24 and runs through June 16, 2013. This year the festival is performing 12th Night, one of Shakespeare's most famous plays.

Thanks to the Shakespeare Festival and Jackson Park PTO, the students at JP didn't have to wait until opening night. The PTO brought 12th Night to them.

Shakespeare in Our Schools is the educational tour arm of the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival. The 50-minute touring shows features actors from the festival's award-winning Touring ensemble.



Tuesday, May 14, 2013

UCHS Latin Students Win Awards at State Convention and in National Latin Exam

Congratulations to the students of the University City High School Latin Club on winning numerous awards, recognitions, and elected offices at the 2013 Missouri Junior Classical League (MOJCL) Convention.  They competed against students from across the state (this year St. Louis was represented by SLUH, MICDS, and UCHS) in a selection of Latin/classics-related activities and competitions over the course of a weekend in April.

Costumes and dramatic interpretation are part of the
fun at the annual MOJCL convention. 

Beginning with a spirited “Romecoming” social event, students spent the weekend demonstrating their skills in oral recitations, photography, art, the creation of original “impromptu art” and “modern myths,” chess, costumes, dramatic interpretation,  and the king of all MOJCL events, the Certamen tournament. 

Certamen, Latin for “competition,” is a quiz bowl–style competition between four-student teams from the various schools in which they answer questions related to Latin and classics studies.  In 2011, the UCHS team were the state Certamen champions, and this year’s team fought valiantly to regain the title but unfortunately lost to SLUH (our friendly Latin rivals) in the exciting semi-finals.
The UCHS Certamen team waits for competition to begin. 

Prior to convention, students take a series of written exams for which they can receive awards.  UCHS typically brings home a bounty of these awards, and 2013 was no different: 

Derivatives, Level 4
1st Place - Ethan Farber
2nd Place - Anna Soifer
5th Place - Grace Deitzler

Derivatives, Level 3
5th Place - Henry Braeske

Grammar, Level 4
1st place - Daniel Politte

History and Culture, Level 4
1st Place - Dan Politte

History and Culture, Level 3
4th Place - Walter Deitzler

Mythology, Level 4
1st Place - Anna Soifer
2nd Place - Ethan Farber

Mythology, Level 3
4th Place - Andrew White

Elections are also held each year at convention, and UCHS students have a long tradition of filling officer positions. This year, junior Deanna Pace was elected 2013-14 Historian, and soon-to-be alumna Grace Deitzler was elected Historian for the Missouri Classical League, the university-level counterpart to MOJCL. 
Deanna Pace gives her campaign speech as outgoing
 MOJCL President UCHS senior Ethan Farber looks on.

The accolades don’t end at convention, however.  Three UCHS  AP Latin students, Dan Politte, Anna Soifer, and Ethan Farber, took the prestigious National Latin Exam (NLE) this year as well.  The exam consists of 40 questions covering topics including grammar, comprehension, derivatives, mythology, historical background, classic literature, and literary devices and is administered according to the level of study the student has completed. As top scorers, Dan and Ethan were awarded gold medals and summa cum laude certificates, and Anna received a magna cum laude certificate for her third-place finish. 
Anna, Ethan, and Dan
UCHS 2013 National Latin Exam participants

To all of our talented and energetic Latin students we say a resounding, Macte virtute! Factum optime!

Surprised to learn that UCity offers Latin? Wondering why anyone would even want to study Latin in this modern age?  Curious about what other great Latin-related things our students are doing? Stay tuned - there is more to come!

Monday, May 13, 2013

UCHS Student Named 2013 National Merit Scholar

University City High School senior Ethan Farber has been selected as a 2013 National Merit Scholarship Winner.

Ethan learned earlier this year that he, along with fellow UCHS senior Anna Soifer, had been chosen as a National Merit Finalist. From an initial field of 1.5 million entrants, narrowed down to 15,000 finalists, about half go on to become scholarship winners. You can read more about Ethan (and Anna) here

National Merit Scholarship Winners are chosen based on their abilities, skills, and accomplishments, including academic records, test scores and recommendations from school officials. 

As a winner, Ethan will receive a $2500 scholarship, something which will surely come in handy as he enters Washington University this fall. 

Congratulations Ethan!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Spring Fling

In just a few short weeks fifth graders in U. City will walk through the doors of their elementary schools as students for the last time. When the school year begins in the fall they will be middle school students at Brittany Woods.

This is a bittersweet moment for parents, but an exciting time for those pre-teens. As I overheard my daughter say to her girlfriend, "I can't wait for sixth grade. I am sooo over fifth grade."

In the spirit of celebrating their elementary years and their promotion to middle school, Jackson Park hosted its first ever "Spring Fling" for the fifth grade class.

Fifth graders that attended the Spring Fling

Students arrived in festive attire (some which had been planning what to wear for weeks). One young gentleman arrived with flowers in hand for his favorite girl and the crowd erupted in screams of excitement.

All you can eat pizza, nachos, and sno cones and special cupcakes kept the group energized during the party.

In between snacking there were congo dances, line dances, limbo dancing, hula hooping, and even some break dancing face offs.

Dancing the night away!

Thank you to Bella Quintal and Stacie Foote for organizing the event. In the words of those that attended, it was "the best party ever!"

Bella Quintal and Stacie Foote

Girls on the Run

Yesterday morning our family rose at 5 a.m. to journey downtown and cheer on our "girl" while she ran a 5k with her Jackson Park Girls on the Run team and 8,000 other people.

Getting ready for the practice 5k on the high school track.

Girls on the Run St Louis is a non-profit prevention program that encourages preteen girls to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through running.

The 20-lesson Girls on the Run curriculum combines training for a 5k (3.1 miles) running event with lessons that inspire girls to become independent thinkers, enhance their problem solving skills and make healthy decisions.  All of this is accomplished through an active collaboration with girls and their parents, schools, volunteers, staff and the community.

Head Coach Nancy Mozier

At Jackson Park we are fortunate to have Nancy Mozier and Peggy Stein as the teacher coaches and Vanessa Schrader and Amanda Elliott as our volunteer coaches. To their credit, there were a number of other teachers that assisted along the way.

JP "vogues" as they get ready to race.
Over ten weeks the girls improved their teamwork, respect for one another and self-esteem. I especially loved the day my daughter came home and told me how she and another girl had become friends through GOTR when previously they thought they had reasons to dislike one another.
But race day isn't just for the girls - it's a family affair. Mothers, brothers, dads, sisters, aunts, and uncles and grandparents too, all converge on downtown St. Louis to run, watch, and cheer on the runners to the finish line.
Brothers running to support their sisters, while others prefer to cheer on the runners...
What a sense of accomplishment for these girls to finish a 5k race with the excitement of 8,000 other runners. Our girl is moving to middle school next year. While she may miss some of her GOTR JP teammates, she'll be joining others at Girls on Track at Brittany Woods Middle School.
A well-earned rest after the race.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Tuba Time!

Let's just say it, the tuba isn't the most flashy instrument in the band. But when UCHS tuba players perform, Joshua Standifer, a freshman and William Mitchell, a senior, sure make it look fun.

Joshua Standifer (left) and William Mitchell (right) with
master tuba teacher Carol Jantsch
At the encouragement of Roger Davenport (U. City resident and former member of the St. Louis Symphony), Joshua and William participated in a master tuba class with Carol Jantsch as part of the St. Louis Low Brass Collective.

Just another one of the great opportunities afforded our students at UCHS by the generosity of our community volunteers.

There is a band concert at UCHS tonight (Friday, May 10 at 7 p.m. in the UCHS auditorium) and I'll be listening close to those fine tuba players.


U. City Grad in Wash U News

UCHS Grad, Justin Nicks, is featured on the Wash U web site.

“Some people have a hard time believing that even a smaller gift has an impact,”
says Olin senior Justin Nicks, “but it absolutely does!”
Through Senior Class Gift, St. Louis native Justin Nicks (BSBA’13) continues his family’s tradition of philanthropy            

How old were you the first time you donated to an organization?
My dad’s a Baptist minister, and I learned early on the importance of giving ten percent to help benefit the community. At the age of ten, when I earned my first paycheck mowing lawns, I donated.
You’re both a donor to and a fundraiser for the Senior Class Gift initiative.  How did you get into raising money for the university?A couple of years ago, some other students and I did a fundraiser in honor of the late Dean [James] McLeod. We sold cookies to help fund the relay team. It felt great to pitch in and see that immediate impact.

Why should students give to Wash U?
Tuition covers only 60% of the cost to educate students on the Danforth Campus—that seems to sink in when we tell fellow students. I’ll say, “Picture your classroom. A significant number of your classmates receive some form of financial aid. Imagine if 40% of them were just gone. If it weren’t for donors giving back, we’d have a lot less opportunity to learn and grow.”

Where did your Senior Class Gift go?
Half of my gift went to Olin, and half went to the engineering school (I started off there as a freshman, then transferred).

When you picture the impact of your giving, what comes to mind?
I picture another student going to class, facing the same struggles that most students face, maybe not knowing that some of their financial aid might have come from students and alumni. But it’s fine with me if they don’t know it’s my money that helped—as long as it’s helping. I’m just glad they’re here.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Zach Morrow Named a Jazz St. Louis All-Star

University City High School's own Zach Morrow has been named one of the 2012-2013 members of the Jazz St. Louis All-Stars–the top students in the JazzU program!

Zachery Morrow

Zach is also a member of the UCHS marching band and has won numerous honors for his percussion skills. His bio for the Jazz St. Louis web site reads:

Zachary Morrow (drums) is a Senior at University City High School, which boasts the likes of Peter Martin and Jeremy Davenport as alumni.

This is Zachary’s third year in JazzU and his first as a member of the Jazz St. Louis All-Stars. Having studied the drums for 15 years, he is already well ingrained in the St. Louis music scene, performing in the University City High School jazz and marching bands, the Sean Holland Band, Jazz in Outer Space, and at his local church.

An honor roll student since sixth grade, Zachary has received numerous awards, including an Outstanding Musicianship award from the Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival (2011) and the University of Missouri – Kansas City (2010-2012). Most recently, he was selected as the drummer for the 2012 All-Suburban High School honor jazz band.

“The most impactful thing about JazzU,” said Zachary, “is getting to work with great jazz legends Cyrus Chestnut, Peter Martin and Tim Warfield. Not to mention the chance to play with fellow musicians who share the same passion for music as I do, and the opportunity to express myself through my music.” He lists Art Blakey, Buddy Rich, Dennis Chambers and Dave Weckl among his many musical influences.

For bios on the other Jazz St. Louis All-Stars visit Jazz St. Louis.

Monday, May 6, 2013

JP Fourth Grader Overcomes Barriers and Inspires Others

Xavier at Busch Stadium with Sharon Robinson

Jackson Park fourth grade Xavier Morgan-Gillard has made quite a splash in local media this past week, and with good reason.  Xavier was selected as a first-place winner  of the  Major League Baseball/Scholastic Books Jackie Robinson Breaking Barriers essay contest. 

Selected from a field of 18,700 submissions, Xavier’s essay, “What Jackie Robinson and I Have in Common”, tells about his struggles in overcoming Selective Mutism, a severe social anxiety that left him unable to speak to people outside his own family.
Xavier’s father Tim first learned of the honor last Friday when Major League Baseball called him at work - an experience he described as “awesome.”  That phone call kicked off a whirlwind of events celebrating Xavier’s accomplishment, as well as the legacy of baseball legend and civil rights champion Jackie Robinson. 

On Tuesday, Robinson’s daughter Sharon was at Jackson Park (along with Fredbird!) to present the award in front of classmates and administrators.  The event was covered by KSDK.  Then, on Tuesday night, Xavier and his family were special guests on the field at Busch Stadium, where Xavier was honored once again.  On Thursday, there were nice articles in both the Beacon and the Post-Dispatch.

Fredbird greets the kids at JP
Xavier (2nd from left) and JP Friends

Getting autographs at the ballgame
As exciting as the week’s events have been, the real inspiration here is Xavier’s story.  Like Jackie Robinson, Xavier faced circumstances which left him feeling isolated and unable to achieve his full potential. With great determination, confidence, and a special friend (as well as lots of support from parents and teachers) Xavier overcame his own barriers has gone on to inspire others.  Here’s his story, in his own words:   

The barrier I overcame was Selective Mutism. When you have Selective Mutism, you are afraid to talk.  I couldn’t talk to anyone other than my family.  I didn’t speak at all in school until the second to last week of first grade.  My kindergarten teacher never heard me speak except videos of me talking at home that I showed her after school sometimes. People thought I was just “shy,” but it was more than that.  My parents told me that Selective Mutism is a type of social anxiety, and that when they first took me to a psychologist for help, the psychologist said SM is one of the hardest anxiety disorders to get past and takes a long time.
I felt like I was in my own world and no one knew what I was thinking, except my parents, my brother, and my friend, Adam. I remember feeling really nervous the first day of preschool.  I remember looking around and everyone was talking and having fun and I was just staring at the wall.  I knew that most people could just talk whenever they feel like it. I felt a little bit jealous. I remember feeling almost like an alien. I thought people would make fun of my voice. I was worried in school because usually I didn’t sit by Adam so I couldn’t whisper, “Hey, can you get the teacher? I need something.”
If you had met me back then, you wouldn’t have said, “Xavier, you remind me of Jackie Robinson!” Even if you had said that to me, I would’ve thought, “Who’s Jackie Robinson?” Since then, I’ve learned a lot about him (through books and a play) and it seems like we overcame barriers in a similar way, using similar values.
Jackie Robinson and I both had confidence. He had confidence to be the first black man ever to play professional baseball with a lot of white people. Without confidence, I couldn’t have learned to speak to new people or even to my teachers. I was brave by going into a classroom with kids who were comfortable talking, yet I couldn’t. Jackie Robinson must’ve felt very different, like I did. He probably felt nervous and excited thinking, “Look, I’m making the history books!”  When I started talking, I didn’t feel like I made the history books because I didn’t!
Getting past Selective Mutism took a lot of determination. I had to stay focused on being able to talk to other people instead of saying to myself, “I give up, I don’t want to talk.” Sometimes, my family and I went to Steak and Shake where I was determined to order my own milkshake so I could have a treat. This was very hard for me, but once I did it a few times, it got
easier.  I worked on overcoming SM by doing things like that every day for four years.  Like Jackie Robinson, I had to have commitment to succeed.
Out of all the traits that Jackie and I have in common, I think that teamwork was the most important one. My team was me, my parents, Ms. Hendrix and Ms. Stuart (my kindergarten and first grade teachers), Dr. Pingel (she’s a psychologist), my friend, Adam, and a horse named Cappy. I had to tell Cappy to “Walk On”, “Trot”, and “Whoa”. It helped to start talking to someone who I was sure wouldn’t tease me. But, the most helpful teammate of all was my friend, Adam. In school I’d whisper answers in Adam’s ear and he would repeat what I said to the whole class.  This really helped me a ton. Jackie Robinson needed teammates to accept him for who he was like Adam did for me.
Xavier's friend Adam, with Sharon Robinson
Now, I’m in fourth grade and I still use the values that Jackie Robinson and I share when I want to be successful. I am in the student council, on a robotics team, play soccer, baseball, piano, and cello. When something is hard for me, I think about Jackie Robinson and how he overcame his barriers, which helps me overcome mine. Now if someone said, “Xavier, you remind me of Jackie Robinson!” I would say (yes, say), “You’re right!”