By Dan McGrath

It was a UIC production, but Leo High School stole the show.

More specifically, Dr. Shaka Rawls stole the show.

Leo’s Principal not only received his doctorate in Urban Educational Policy from the University of Illinois-Chicago on Saturday, May 4, he was the keynote speaker at the university’s Black Excellence ceremony recognizing African-American graduates of distinction from close to a dozen degree-granting UIC schools.  

The world-renowned Leo Choir performed flawlessly, drawing standing ovations after each of its three songs from the Leo-dominated audience at the UIC Forum. 

UIC’s Chancellor, Dr. Marie Lynn Miranda, said the soul-stirring music reminded her of the cultural anthropology research she did on southern churches and their role in the communities they served while she was an undergrad at Duke and a graduate student at Harvard.  

Dr. Rawls acknowledged that his doctorate was several years in the making; the demands of the job he holds at Leo no doubt prevented him from finishing sooner. As he has since completing his doctoral dissertation, Dr. Rawls cited the Leo student body as his inspiration for attaining this lofty academic goal.

“I want our boys to see that someone who looks like them, someone who comes from where they come from, is capable of achieving  at this level no matter the obstacles society places in front of them,” Dr. Rawls said.

“Gentlemen, this is for you.”

Dozens of friends, family members and supporters from Leo, UIC, the Big Shoulders Fund and other phases of Dr. Rawls’ life feted him at a university-sponsored reception following the ceremony. The celebration continued into the next day with a reception at Leo that drew 200 well-wishers.

Samira Rawls, Shaka’s 14-year-old daughter, MC’d the party. Leo President Dan McGrath was among the speakers.

“Shaka might tell you that not everything Coach Holmes and I told him when we were recruiting him to Leo was the gospel truth,” McGrath said. “In fact, we might have embellished a bit. Well, desperate times call for desperate measures. 

“Today our enrollment is at a 20-year high. We’re current on our bills, with a couple of dollars left over. Leo enjoys a remarkably high profile for a school its size, and Shaka’s role in all this cannot be overstated. 

“We could not have asked for a better principal. We are tremendously proud of Dr. Rawls, and we congratulate him on this monumental achievement. It’s a great day for Shaka Rawls and a great day for Leo.”