Press Room Headlines
Speech is a fitting finale for ABC student - Appleton Post-Crescent
by Kathy Nufer
It takes tons of initiative to get selected as a graduation speaker at Appleton West High School.
You not only have to be brave enough to submit a speech, but confident that what you say and how you say it will inspire an auditorium filled with 1,600 classmates and loved ones on one of the most momentous days in their lives.
"This year, we had lots of brave kids," West Principal Greg Hartjes said of 10 seniors who took a crack at commencement speechwriting.
Generally, West chooses two class speakers, Hartjes said, but this year, the panel of senior homeroom teachers made an exception and picked three "really good ones," including one submitted by Anthony Neal of Santa Ana, Calif., who has attended West since freshman year as an A Better Chance student.
"His speech was interesting, very human and genuine," said Ann DeBruin, one of the teachers on the panel, "but really it was his delivery that got our attention."
Teachers have spent the last couple weeks helping the speakers edit their speeches and polish their public speaking skills for Thursday's big event. Neal, 17, said he isn't nervous and welcomes this chance because he has a lot to say.
"I've learned so much here," he said, adding that his decision to apply for ABC, which provides talented students of color from across the country with the opportunity to attend schools with strong education programs, was his best idea yet.
I would do it over again in a heartbeat and wouldn't change anything," he said. "It has been a great opportunity to get a better education and I've learned a lot. Where I'm from, the education system isn't too good. I would have done well in school but when I got to college. I wouldn't have skills I needed.
"I'd rather take a lower GPA here to be in better classes and get A's later in college. I think I'm more prepared now and I'm not afraid to step into the college scene."
He has enough Advanced Placement credits to qualify for sophomore status this fall at Carthage College in Kenosha, where he'll major in marketing.
Neal, the secretary of West's DECA student marketing branch, would like to own his own firm someday, and said he's leaning toward doing "something big" in the music business.
Neal, who lives at Appleton's ABC House with three other ABC students, said he reaped more than academic benefits in his four years here.
"I've learned to socialize with a more diverse culture here," he said. "Where I'm from is mostly Hispanic, and even the small percentage of Asians and African Americans here is more diversity than I had there."
He said he has grown as a person.
"I've gone from a regular, normal kid to someone with a lot of social skills. The kids here are awesome. I have a lot of lifelong friends now."
"He really does have a sense of who he is now and what he can do academically, but he also has a grasp of different life experiences," said Christina Martinez, ABC resident director. She said she's not surprised he's one of West's graduation speakers.
"He is a charismatic people person."
Neal doesn't want to give anything away before Thursday, but said his graduation speech will reflect on four words — equipped, empowered, trained and liberated — and how they relate to making the most of a high school education.
Like DeBruin, he thinks his performance will sparkle.
"I'm just a natural speaker," he said. "I love to talk. I know how to get the crowd's attention. I'm very enthusiastic."
Neal's mother and 13-year-old brother will be listening in the audience, and that's exciting, he said. Pat Tate, the grandmother of a former ABC student, will be there, too. Tate now lives in Appleton and was the impetus behind Neal's speech.
She tried to talk other ABC students into writing a graduation speech using those four words but none of them would accept her challenge, Neal said.
"That I'm doing it will be special. I've been practicing every day. She will be amazed."
©2008 Appleton Post-Crescent
A Better Chance
253 West 35th Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10001
Phone (646) 346-1310, Fax (646) 346-1311