I experienced a number of defining moments between the ages of 8 and 18:

I lived in Chicago until I was 8, and I attended a private school, but when I moved to Oak Park, I enrolled in a public school. This was quite different for me after living in a concrete jungle and going to school with kids whose parents were far wealthier than mine.

Graduation from Holmes Elementary School meant I was leaving teachers and kids I had known for five years, but it also meant that I would be meeting new teachers and friends and expanding my knowledge.

Graduation from high school was a major defining moment for me because after the summer vacation, I would be entering the totally new world of college. Once again I would be meeting new people and be taught by instructors with very high expectations, who would treat me as an adult.

During the summer after I turned 16, I was hired as a stock boy at Cannon’s Book Store on Lake Street — a real job with a paycheck, and even though I earned $40 a week for 40 hours’ work, the money was mine to either save or spend. I did save half of the money each week.

When I was in grade school, I was generally picked last on the softball teams. Back then I was a skinny kid who had earned the reputation of not being able to hit. My bad luck changed one day in May of my eighth grade year. As usual, I was picked last and when I came up to bat, my teammates grumbled, because they believed I would be an easy out. The opposing team’s outfielders pulled in about 30 feet behind the infielders who pulled in, too, because they were expecting the usual pop fly or soft grounder.

Well, the opposing pitcher floated a pitch inside and close to my waist. I stepped back, got my bat under the pitch, rocketed the ball way over the left-fielder’s head, and trotted around the bases. The home run didn’t turn me into Mickey Mantle, but it did give me the confidence that I could smash the right pitch.

In February of my eighth-grade year, our history teacher, Miss Vykruta, told the class that each student would partner up with another student and write a research paper, due in early April. She also told us it was a blue ribbon prize assignment.

George Warren and I teamed up and Miss Vykruta assigned us the topic of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. She told us we would have to answer who was involved, what happened, where it happened, and when it happened, but most importantly, the why and the how. George and I obtained all of the books available on our topic and really dug out the information. Our plan was to discover if John Wilkes Booth acted as part of a conspiracy or acted alone. After our research was completed, we decided that Booth planned the crime on his own and, of course, carried it out. The so-called help he received from a few bunglers was valueless.

George and I won the blue ribbon, proving that we were capable of doing quality research.

What were your defining moments?

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