News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 18, 2010

MLK Youth summit centers on power of education

By Howard Greninger

TERRE HAUTE — Education is the key to becoming a “star” in life, about 175 middle and high school students learned Monday during a Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Summit at the Booker T. Washington Recreational Center in Terre Haute.

Donning T-shirts with an artistic image of King and the phrase “You can be a star,” students alternated among four workshops during the five-hour summit. On the T-shirt was a letter-by-letter definition of Star: S — Strive for excellence; T — Train you mind and body; A — Acknowledge your talents; R — Reach for the stars.

“Regardless of what you do, academics has to be number one. You have to apply yourself,” Alan P. Hill told about 30 students packed in a small upstairs room, with a large framed photograph of Martin Luther King hanging on the wall.

“You can be the best football or basketball player or be the best dancer, or do all of those things, but you still have to study, to work hard to have that success,” he said during one of the workshops. Hill also was the keynote speaker at the summit.

“If you are the most talented athlete but don’t have the grades to participate, what does it matter at the end of the day? You have to acknowledge that, hey, ‘I have a brain up here that really works and it can really allow me to do a lot of things.’ Strive for excellence.”

Hill is vice president for enrollment and marketing at Franklin College in Indiana. He grew up in Otter Creek Township in Vigo County. Hill said he is the 10th of 15 children, with eight sisters and six brothers. He is a 1977 graduate of Terre Haute North Vigo High School, where he was president of Counterpoints (a show choir), and a 1981 graduate of DePauw University, where he was a Division III NCAA national champion pole vaulter, clearing 16 feet 2 inches.

“You never know where your talents start to develop. I grew up in Burnett. Growing up in the country, we would swing on the vines and get a stick and try to get across the creek, so those skills developed into pole vaulting,” he said.

He also signed with and participated in one spring training camp as a defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys.

“I really don’t like football, but because of God-given talent I was able to participate. Everything that you do doesn’t mean you like it, but you work hard at it because it opens doors for you,” he said.

“You have to acknowledge your talents,” Hill said. “You have all heard, ‘Ask and it will be given to you.’ But let me remind you, that doesn’t mean that God is your own personal genie, that ‘my wish is your command.’ It means, how can I match up my talents, my skills, the God-given abilities given me — how do I match those up with His desires so that I can perform at my very best?

“Acknowledge your talents; never settle on just being average,” Hill said. “You can learn something every day.”

Terre Haute South Vigo High School athletic director Tony Brewer conducted another workshop Monday. Brewer had served as coordinator for the Academic Opportunity Program at Indiana State University and had been director of the Ronald McNair Project at ISU, a program to help low-income, first-generation college students prepare for doctoral studies. He is a 1987 graduate of Terre Haute South Vigo High School and holds a bachelor’s degree (1992) and two master’s degrees (1997) from ISU.

Brewer said the importance of education can easily be seen from earned income. Citing 2008 national statistics, he said a person with a bachelor’s degree will earn $29,138 more annually than people without a degree. That equates to more than $1.2 million over a lifetime.

“Education can be worth over a million dollars,” he told a group of middle school students. He encouraged students to get education after high school, saying he was a first-generation college student, meaning he was the first in his family ever to earn a college degree.

He said that in 2008, the national unemployment rate for people without a high school degree was 9 percent. The national median annual earnings without a high school degree was $30,317.

“If you make $30,000 in Terre Haute, that is like making $10,000. In New York, you can’t even pay the rent for $30,000,” he told students. The national median income with a bachelor’s degree in 2008 was $68,176, Brewer said.

Brewer reviewed qualifications for junior college as well as public and private universities. He also encouraged middle school students to apply for Indiana’s 21st Century Scholar programs, begun in 1990 as Indiana’s way to raise the educational aspirations of low- and moderate-income families. The program covers the cost of college if academic levels are maintained.

“Why go to college? More money, more money,” Brewer told students. “It also provides more opportunities in your life.”

Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or