Mother teaches son timeless lesson at commencement ceremony

June 6, 2017
Chicago Tribune

Ida Pruitt waved me over toward her family.

I did a double take, thinking she was motioning for someone behind me on the crowded stage inside the gym of Calumet New Tech High School. It was filled with school officials, school board members and faculty educators adorned with gowns, caps and hoods.

To my surprise, Pruitt again motioned for me. This time I bounced off the stage and made a beeline to the bleachers, with just a couple of minutes to spare.

Saturday night, the Gary school hosted its commencement ceremony and, not surprising, the gym was rocking with enthusiasm. I doubt that any family cheered and yelled more Pruitt’s clan, who didn’t dare contain their emotions on that special night.

Since Sept. 21, 1998, when Pruitt’s son, Nicholas, was born, his family has waited for him to graduate from that school, just like his grandmother, Ernestine Hosea, did in 1969.

Nicholas, who sported a red gown and polite smile among his fellow grads, served as school president during his high school career, as well as a football player in his senior year. He also works at the Gary SouthShore RailCats baseball stadium through a school program, and he volunteers at the Bethel Church food pantry in Crown Point.

“I can say that Nicholas attending Calumet New Tech was a very good thing,” boasted his mother, who graduated from West Side High School in 1988.

Nicholas will be attending Ivy Tech Community College in the fall to study culinary arts. He hopes to attend Purdue University for a degree in hospitality management.

Sounds like a great plan, I thought to myself.

When it came my turn to say a few words to the graduates, I told them their career path may not be as they first planned or once hoped. It could turn out to be as wayward and unpredictable as mine. Yet still be just as rewarding, if not more than they ever dreamed.

I also told them that they should now begin writing their life’s story, whatever it may be.

“What’s your story going to be?” I said to them.

I noticed one female graduate in the third row nod her head and raise her hand, as if she knew exactly what I was talking about. If I reached only her that night, I’d be happy with my involvement at that event.

The raucous audience, however, was more interested in seeing the graduates walk across the stage to receive their diplomas. And understandably so. I couldn’t help but notice this, so I cut short my brief speech to speed up the proceedings — not before telling the grads one last thing. It was the adage about how there are three kinds of people in the world: Those who make things happen; those who watch what happens and those who wonder what the heck just happened.

I’ve been all three of those people, I told them, but their task — beginning that night — is to make things happen in life.

“Go … make … things … happen,” I concluded.

Ida Pruitt made things happen that night by pulling me aside to say hello, take a fast photo of us together and proudly boast about her son, the new high school graduate.

Now it’s his turn to, once again, follow his mother’s lead and make things happen in life.

Media Relations 101

Several readers have asked about my upcoming Media Relations 101 seminar to learn how to better pitch story ideas to media outlets. One of the most consistent questions I receive from readers, radio show listeners and social media followers is how they can better interact with newspapers or radio stations.

As a radio talk show host, I routinely hear from listeners and readers who think they’re “ignored” by media outlets. So each year I offer a free refresher course for them, and for experienced public relations personnel who may need a few fresh tips or reminders.

My one-hour seminar will take place 2 p.m. Saturday at the Lake County Library’s main branch on U.S. 30 in Merrillville. It will include a question-and-answer period, and I happily will address or critique story ideas and pitches from guests.

This session will include these tips: How to write an informative, if not catchy, media release; how to grab a journalist’s attention, or at least pique their curiosity; how to concisely compile a complete news release, including a possible “hook” introduction, and a photo opportunity (great photo ops can sell a lackluster idea).

If you or your company, church or organization would be interested in attending my seminar, feel free to attend. No registration is needed. For more information, email, or call the library at 219-777-7012.

‘Fabric of their lives’

Reader feedback is one of my favorite perks of being a newspaper columnist, especially when it is so well written and articulated thoughtfully.

“Too bad that everyone can’t fly high and consider the fabric of their lives,” wrote Shirley Smith, who often contacts me after reading my columns.

She is referring to my recent column on thinking about life’s puzzle pieces while flying in a jet at 38,000 feet.

“You are very lucky. Cherish that,” Smith wrote. “Personally, I do my best thinking about such deep subjects with both of my feet on the ground. The puzzle pieces don’t always mesh and, when they are askew, I look upward, put it in God’s hands and give thanks for all that I have. Thanks for the thought-provoking column.”

Several readers told me they resonated with that column, agreeing that they also contemplate life’s deeper meanings while flying from their past to their future, so to speak.