By Dan McGrath

That’s Doctor Rawls, if you please.

On Wednesday, March 6, Leo Principal Shaka Rawls defended “Watching the Asphalt Grow,” the dissertation he prepared to complete his doctoral degree in Urban Educational Policy from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

The topic covered the effect school closings and consolidation during Mayor  Rahm Emanuel’s administration had on the Woodlawn neighborhood of Mr. Rawls’ youth. A panel of doctorate-level UIC educators reviewed the manuscript, then questioned Mr. Rawls about the project rather pointedly while viewing a slide-show presentation he prepared to highlight his findings.

After roughly a half-hour of deliberations, the panelists summoned him back to the room and gave him a bell to ring, acknowledging their acceptance of the dissertation and his elevation to Dr. Shaka Rawks, Ed.D.

“Finally,” he said as family, friends and Leo colleagues congratulated him. And after the party adjourned to a conference room, the world-renowned Leo Choir performed a celebratory three-song set.

“We are incredibly proud of Dr. Rawls,” Leo President Dan McGrath said. “For as much time and energy and effort as he puts into our young men at Leo, it’s remarkable that he could rise to the highest level an educator can reach by completing a very demanding degree. It speaks to his commitment.”

As Dr. Rawls made his rounds at Leo on Friday morning, each classroom he entered greeted him with a standing ovation.

“This for you guys,” he told his Leo students. “I come from where you come from, I’m one of you. And if I can do something like this, so can you. Aim high and stick with it.”

UIC wasted no time putting its latest honoree to work. Dr. Rawls has accepted an invitation to be the keynote speaker at UIC’s Black Excellence Graduation Celebration on Saturday, May 4.

“You are an ideal choice to send our graduates into the world with words of celebration, encouragement and wisdom,” UIC Administrator Cynthia Blair said in extending the invitation. “You will give our seniors much-needed perspective and inspiration as they look ahead to life after graduation.”