Leo High School had an opportunity to thank a good friend and show off one of its outstanding young men at a function on Friday, Sept. 22.

The Metropolitan Planning Council of Chicago honored John Canning with its Champions Award, in recognition of his efforts to build a safer, healthier, more efficient and more prosperous Chicago. A generous Leo benefactor, Mr. Canning is Chairman of the Madison Dearborn Partners investment firm, and his volunteer work as Co-Chairman of the Big Shoulders Fund is the centerpiece of his many charitable endeavors.

Mr. Canning is a strong advocate for Catholic education, and a dozen Leo students receive tuition assistance through the Canning Foundation. Because so much of his philanthropy is directed toward schools and school-age youngsters, the Metropolitan Planning Council asked Big Shoulders to provide a student speaker for the event to thank Mr. Canning and explain how a Canning Foundation Scholarship affects his life.

Big Shoulders turned to Leo, and we were happy to offer Jalen Harris, a junior, an honor student, a three-sport athlete and the recipient of a Canning Foundation Scholarship. Speaking to more than 1,000 guests in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel downtown, Jalen did a wonderful job of articulating how the scholarship helps his family cover the costs of his Leo education, how Leo is helping him “be all I can be,” and how Mr. Canning’s support for his scholars extends beyond financial.

Jalen’s parents, Sam (a Leo grad) and Shayanta, looked on proudly. Afterwards, numerous guests approached the Harrisses and congratulated them on Jalen’s terrific speech. Planning Council Board Member King Harris, a past Champions Award recipient who introduced Mr. Canning, said Jalen represented “a symbol of hope” among Chicago-area young people.

Jalen and his parents also got to meet Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, who was honored at the luncheon for uplifting the entire Chicago region via the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship.

Jalen worked hard preparing his speech, with the assistance of Leo Guidance Counselor Otto Horton. He acknowledged being “a little nervous” when he realized he’d be speaking to so many people, so he turned to one of his favorite football players for inspiration: Cris Carter, a Hall of Fame wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings.

“I read that Cris Carter admitted to being nervous before games, but he thought it was a good thing because it meant he was passionate about what he had to do,” Jalen said. “I was passionate about thanking Mr. Canning, and about representing Leo and making my parents proud.”

Mission accomplished.