Jim O’Connor, retired Chairman of Commonwealth Edison and co-founder and co-chairman of the Big Shoulders Fund, looks on as Isaiah Nichols addresses the Big Shoulders Board of Directors breakfast meeting in the spring of 2014. Nichols, a member of Leo’s Class of 2015, has been selected to serve as a Student Ambassador for Big Shoulders, speaking on the value of Catholic education and Big Shoulders’ role in supporting it.

Good morning.

My name is Isaiah Nichols and I’m a junior at Leo Catholic High School. I came to Leo as a transfer student from Perspectives Charter School during my sophomore year. It was a good transition going from a charter school to a Catholic school. I’m very happy to be part of the Leo Family.

In the charter school there were 30 to 35 students per classroom. I felt like I was just a number, and I wasn’t challenged the way I am at Leo. At Leo, our classes are very intimate. The teachers are totally committed to our education. They focus on our strengths and work with us on our weaknesses. They are willing to come early and stay late and give their time and additional instruction to anyone who wishes to receive it.

The neighborhood where I live is considered fairly dangerous, but I feel safe and comfortable at Leo. It’s like family. Everyone knows my name and has my best interests at heart. Leo’s Mission is to make sure we all graduate, attend college and go on to become productive, caring citizens, with Jesus Christ’s teachings as our model.

My first day at Leo, Coach Holmes taught me the proper way to address a person: You hold your head up, look him in the eye and shake his hand. Coach Holmes is one of several father figures I appreciate being around. They’re helping us develop character and be responsible.

While attending Leo I have been inducted into the National Honor Society, which recognizes leadership and community service as well as academic achievement. I have a GPA of 3.9. My involvement in sports extends to baseball, cross country and chess. Leo’s staff has encouraged me to become a leader, which I have done by serving as co-captain of the cross country and baseball teams.

I know my own true strengths and I recognize that playing small does not serve the world. We are all meant to shine as children do. At Leo I have learned that developing my character will determine my destiny. For that I am forever grateful because I will take that advice with me for the rest of my life.

I am also deeply grateful to the Big Shoulders Fund and all of its supporters. The Access Scholarship and other assistance I have received from Big Shoulders has made it possible for me to attend Leo. My mother recently suffered two strokes and is currently unemployed. My father is a disabled veteran. Without the assistance of Big Shoulders, I would not be the successful student I am today because I would not be able to afford to attend Leo.

Leo High School has had a huge impact on my life, and I’m at Leo because of Big Shoulders. I thank God for keeping my mother by my side. I thank the Big Shoulders Fund for the financial aid that enables me to attend Leo, and for giving me this opportunity to speak to you today. I thank Leo for giving me the love, support and encouragement to be successful. As I stand here today, I’m proud to say that I’m a Leo Man, ready to make a difference in the world.

I know I speak for thousands of students at Big Shoulders schools throughout Chicago when I say God bless all of you, and thank you for this opportunity.

You are changing lives.