On a long, dreary rainy day, the clouds parted in the late afternoon and the sun smiled down in anticipation of the 12th annual Battle Creek Carson Scholars Awards banquet to begin!
The event was again held at Battle Creek Central High School- Bearcat country!The huge school gymnasium was transformed into a lovely banquet hall with blue floor covering and blue and yellow accents all over.Over 300 were seated at the white- cloth-covered tables which had 2″ diameter bud vases with daisies and blue asters. And the large bouquet flowers in front of the lectern were yellow zinnias and royal blue delphiniums in a large white basket.
Opening comments were made by Dr. Evon Walters, President of the Robert B. Miller College in Battle Creek, who had just been in the area for four months. He said the sky’s the limit when you prepare yourself, and he quoted Walt Disney “All of your dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them!” He concluded with an introduction of the illustrious host, Aaron Baskerville, weekend anchor for WWMT, local channel 3. The young man was originally from the Chicago area, born of parents who stressed education and scholarship.
In his fourth time as emcee, Mr. Baskerville welcomed everyone, including sponsors from Kellogg Foundation and educators from Kellogg Community College, as well as other local dignitaries.
Two musical presentations by the Northwestern Middle School Chorale were accompanied by Karyn Harris and Michelle Evans on an African Djembe drum. The lively Zulu Song, “We are marching in the light of God” (Siyahamba) started in the native South African language and ended in English. Then the happy strains of Joyful, Joyful, made popular by award-winning movie “Sister Act”, was taken up another notch with vocal soloist Nia Johnson, and two rappers Michelle Evans and Nachele Poindexter.
Kellogg President and CEO John Bryant then came to the podium. Mr. Baskerville added that just that afternoon; Mr. Bryant had been elected Board Chairman in addition to his other titles! President Bryant stated that even though his father had dropped out of school at age 14 to help support the family, education was still number one and we should all take advantage of the opportunities to believe and achieve. He noted that Dr. Carson followed his dream and is now a member of the Board of Directors of the Kellogg Company.
When Dr. and Mrs. Carson came to the stage, after Ben thanked John for his wonderful introduction, he shared a little secret. Ten to fifteen years ago unbeknownst to Mr. Bryant, the Kellogg board had taken notice of him, and decided they would keep an eye on him, thinking he would be a candidate for CEO of the company. So his potential was recognized before he even thought of being CEO. That sends a message to us all, always do your best, and you will be rewarded!
Asking Candy to share info on the second arm of the Carson Scholars Fund, Dr. Carson stepped back. She started with a description of the Reading Room program, how it affects the academic climate of the schools, and reported on the Reading Room designed like a vacation at the beach that had opened at Richfield Public School in Flint, Michigan that morning.
Dr. Carson’s address began with thanks to the parents, as he realized it is a joint effort to produce smart young people who also care about others. He stated that he would not have been a scholar liked the students present. As a youngster, Dr. Carson hated two things, being the dummy in the class, and poverty. He always wondered how his classmates knew so much when they were the same age as he was! And being poor was not fun. However, even though his mother only had a third grade education, she was very observant and noticed that the successful people she cleaned houses for didn’t watch a lot of TV, but read a lot of books. Requiring her sons to read two books each week from the public library and submit to her written book reports, which she couldn’t read, was the program that turned young Ben’s and his brother’s lives around.
The sad thing is, today he sees so many young people and not-so-young people with the same limited knowledge. They may know about what’s happening with Dancing with the Stars or which football team is winning, but when it comes to what’s important, like the state of our nation, they don’t have a clue. We all have a sphere of influence and need to utilize it to help others understand the crisis in our nation, since the future of America and of the entire world is at stake. As the current world leader, the United States has always attempted to help other nations. But, if another country becomes the world leader, as history has shown, the likelihood of that country being as benign in its dealings with other nations as the U.S. has been, is very slim.
In order to help others understand and be a change agent you need courage, he recalled D-Day and the War of 1812 when Americans more than demonstrated their courage in the face of terrible odds to ensure the liberty for everyone else in our nation. We need to be willing to do what it takes to ensure that future generations can be free and independent.
A vocal solo of Fantasia Burrino’s “I Believe” was crooned by 5-time Carson Scholar Caitlyn Cubberly, who is currently a senior at Battle Creek Central.; She was accompanied on keyboard by Dr. Roland Sunkins, III, her fine arts and performing teacher at Battle Creek Central.
Attention was directed to the screen mounted above the running track rail as a video of past adult trailblazers played, which included former Secretary of State General Colin Powell and his wife Alma, legendary news commentator Sam Donaldson and Dr. Francis Collins, head of National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Linda Hicks, Superintendent of Battle Creek Public Schools, praised the students for their academic talents as well as their artistic talents, commenting that this is only the tip of the iceberg as far as talent goes in the BCPS system! After thanking the educators, parents and supporters for their dedication to our future leaders, she then introduced the three special student keynote speakers.
Tamira Downer, the first student speaker, is a fifth grader at Fremont Elementary School, and dreams of being a teacher one day. Her speech was focused around a challenge, which she overcame two years ago. A new swimming pool is an exciting thing and quite a draw for those who can access it. However, if you don’t know how to swim, it is indeed a challenge to learn as well as to overcome a fear of the water. Tamira shared how her grandparents encouraged her to overcome her fear and have faith in herself. Her conclusion was “with practice and courage I can accomplish anything!”
The second student speaker, Buonxo Phonechaleun, is a fourth grade student at Ann J. Kellogg Elementary School, interested in science and technology and is also a member of the Gentlemen’s Club. His safety patrol job is a stepping stone to his ambition of becoming a police officer. His father was born in Bangkok, Thailand, and understood the principal of hard work paying off. And ten-year-old Buonxo discovered this principle firsthand. While his father was away, he had to take care of his sick mother and baby sister. Preparing milk bottles and all the things that go along with caring for an infant as well as making sure his mother received all that she needed, and then taking care of a house – you can imagine the challenge. However, all his hard work paid off, and his mother is fine, his sister is fine, and he has that sense of accomplishment that only a true “man of the house” (even if only temporary) can feel!
Monica Par, a tenth grader at Battle Creek Central High School was the final student speaker who desires to be a math teacher after college. She came to America in 2012 with her parents and three brothers.Speaking from the perspective of her 10-year high school class reunion in the future, she spoke of overcoming the cultural and language challenges in high school and how she had to work twice as hard as her peers. With the help of teachers, she never gave up, and realized the important role teachers play in changing lives and discovered her own passion for teaching. Her positions as teacher and professor in the future were realized after obtaining her college and graduate degrees. She ended with “If I can make it, any student can make it!”
A saxophone quartet missing one member performed "War March of the Priests" by Felix Mendelssohn. (Due to time conflict, the missing member had to be somewhere else at 6:30pm.) This ensemble had won superior honors at the annual solo and ensemble festival in Michigan this year.
The time that everyone had been waiting for had finally come! As the 2014 scholar awards were presented, Aaron Baskerville read the names and shared a short synopsis of each scholar’s life as they received their medals from Dr. Carson, their certificates from Superintendent Hicks, Candy Carson’s signature hug and a handshake with congratulations from Mr. Bryant.
The repeat scholars were also recognized with much applause, and the program closed with the scholars exiting to have group photos taken.
Thank you to all who made this happen!!