OPRF grad address honoring Ray a Kroc

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Dear District 200 Board of Education and Superintendent Bridge,

As a parent of a recent OPRF graduate, I feel I must write the Board of Education to express my displeasure with President John Rigas's speech at the graduation last week. To tell a group of over 700 graduating students that the one Oak Park and River Forest High School alum they should emulate is the one who could not do what they did?#34;finish school?#34;is an outrage.

For the students sitting before him that day and their families in the stands, graduating high school took hard work and determination. While some never doubted they would graduate, others made that decision every day. "Do I go to school today or hang out somewhere?" "Should I drop out and get a job to help my family?" "School is so hard and quitting would be so easy."

But these students and their families stuck with it, worked hard, came back when it was easier to stay home. With the dedicated teachers and staff at OPRF, they got the extra help they needed, took an after school job, got their diploma?#34;only to be told by the president of their school's board that it does not matter ?#34;that someone who could not do that is someone they should emulate.

To throw a dropout's success in the faces of students who just finished the tough task of graduating was a misplaced attempt at inspiration and shows how out of touch our board president is with the reality of most children's lives. It's clear from this presentation that President Rigas has little regard for the school's exceptional teachers, for the "tradition of excellence" and for students who already accomplished more than Ray Kroc was ever able to.

So shame on you, President Rigas. My biggest regret that day was that we have raised our children to be too well-mannered to give you the booing you deserved.

Nancy A. Cowles
OPRF parent

Kroc's life should inspire model citizenship

In response to Ms. Cowles' comments on my graduation speech ("OPRF commencement speech honoring Ray a Krok"), I am very sorry Ms. Cowles felt my speech was inappropriate for our students. The point in my speech was not to encourage students to drop out of school.

In fact Ray Kroc left OPRF at age 15 to join the Red Cross and drive an ambulance during WWI. He like many people during that time chose to enter the work force upon returning to the United States. However, the point of my speech was to encourage our young adults, my daughter included, to take on the values that Ray Kroc used in his life. He has never been associated with any corporate scandal. His ethics have always been deemed the highest in the corporate world and his charitable giving, along with his wife Joan, have included some of the largest donations ever made in the U.S. I wanted to encourage our graduates to think about values above job titles and how much money they make. One only has to look at the front page of the paper, where government and corporate officials are being indicted for all types of fraud and criminal activity.

Long before I become involved with OPRF, the school honored Ray Kroc with the Tradition of Excellence award in 1983. Established by the Class of 1982, and sponsored jointly by the Board of Education and the Student Council, the award is presented annually to alumni or former students who have distinguished themselves in academics, literature, business, the professions or public service and who, through these accomplishments, have brought great credit to OPRF. As an initial inductee, students and faculty put Ray Kroc in the same group as Bruce Barton, United States Congressman; May Estelle Cook, A Founder of the Nineteenth Century Woman's Club; Frederick J. Doyle, First Chairman, Department of Geodetic Science; Ernest Hemingway; James Herrick, Founder, Chicago Heart Association; John La Montaine, Pulitzer Prize; George Schaefer, Emmy Award Winner. It is clear the school believes Ray Kroc to be someone all students should feel proud to be associated with.

Regarding the comment, "It's clear from this presentation that President Rigas has little regard for the school's exceptional teachers," I would think the following quote from my speech is in direct conflict with that statement.

"Just as I did not know 28 years ago, you too don't know today how this great institution has prepared you for your next journey. Whether it is college, serving in the military, doing mission work or entering the work force, you will soon find out that no one will be better prepared for the future than the class of 2005 from Oak Park and River Forest High School.

When you come to understand that, you will then realize why this school's alumni are so proud of this great institution."

I have had several parents and students compliment me on the speech as motivating and challenging the students to think about becoming model citizens. I had the speech reviewed by a parent of a graduate, who is a principal at another school. This parent told me not to change a word.

Obviously it was not my intention or desired result to insult any parents or graduates. I apologize if that was the result.

John Rigas
President, District 200
Board of Education

 

Following is the commencement speech delivered by OPRF school board president John Rigas:

Thank you Dr. Bridge and good afternoon to the 724 members of the class of 2005 and your families, friends and faculty who have joined us. Today I find myself in some what of a unique situation. As parent of a graduate of the class of 2005, I know the feelings of pride and excitement that each of our families has today. In addition, I know the feeling of anxiety we all have regarding the future of our children. To each of the students I know how you feel, because I sat in those very same seats 28 years ago this next Thursday. Just as I did not know 28 years ago, you too don't know today how this great institution has prepared you for your next journey. Whether it is college, serving in the military, doing mission work or entering the work force, you will soon find out that no one will be better prepared for the future than the class of 2005 from Oak Park and River Forest High School. When you come to understand that, you will then realize why this school's alumni are so proud of this great institution. Speaking of alumni, we have had so many famous alumni from this school. Great authors, scientists, Olympic athletes, actors, doctors, business leaders, political leaders, Miss America winner and, the list goes on. However, in my mind, one of the most famous people to attend this school never graduated. That person was Ray Kroc. While Ray was famous for founding McDonald's Corporation and making sure that today we are never more than 2 minutes from a burger, fries and shake, to me he may be the most successful person to attend this great school. He was successful because of what he did with his life. Ray Kroc once said "if you work just for money, you'll never make it, but if you love what you're doing, success will be yours." He loved what he did and even though he had millions of dollars he worked until he died. His word was as good as gold and he ran McDonald's with honesty and integrity. He is famous for his handshake agreements with McDonald's many business partners never needing a written agreement. He and his wife gave not only millions of dollars to charity, but countless hours to so many causes. Where would so many distressed families be without the comfort of Ronald McDonald Houses at children's hospitals throughout the country? I challenge the class of 2005 to think about success not in what college you attend, what job you attain or how much money you make, but in the way you live your life. To choose the right path even though it most often will be the harder path. To help others with no expectation of having them help you back. And to respect those around you just as you expect them to respect you. Have pride in where you have come from. You have the ability to accomplish great things only limited by your imagination. Your generation will be judged on the contributions you make to others, your country and your communities. It won't be easy, but the country needs these values now more than ever. And as individuals, you deserve nothing less from each other. Please come back frequently and keep Oak Park and River Forest High School a continuing part of your life. On behalf of the Board of education of Oak Park and River Forest High School I congratulate you on all of your successes and leave you with this final thought from Ray Kroc. Luck is the dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you are. I don't know about the rest of you, but right now I'm feeling much luckier.

I thank you for allowing me to be a part of this exceptional day.

John Rigas
President, District 200
Board of Education

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