We Are Proud of Our 2022 Graduates

Sunday, May 8 was a festive, joyous day to remember for Leo High School’s graduating class of 2022, as well as their mothers as Leo upheld a longstanding tradition of graduating on Mother’s Day before a full house at St. Margaret of Scotland Church.

It was an especially festive and joyous day for two standout members of the class, whose many contributions over four years were acknowledged and honored.

In his Valedictorian address, Cameron Cleveland cited the obstacles he and his classmates overcame to reach graduation in the midst of a COVID pandemic that affected every aspect of their high school careers. Classroom success, basketball triumphs, community-boosting service projects … all seemed even more meaningful, having been achieved against a COVID backdrop that disrupted so many lives in so many ways.

Ranked No. 1 in his class for each of his four years at Leo, Cleveland earned the Valedictorian designation for finishing with the highest GPA within the Class of 2022. Befitting the two-year captain of Leo’s Catholic League championship basketball team, he also received the William J. Koloseike Gold Medal for Athletics, as well as the Thomas and Mary Owens Gold Medal for Excellence in Mathematics and the Andrew J. McKenna Gold Medal for Leadership Initiatives.

Cleveland is headed for Morehouse College in Atlanta on an academic scholarship.

Oliver Brown Jr. —known as PJ around Leo—was the Class of 2022 Salutatorian by a razor-thin margin. He echoed Cleveland in noting that COVID-induced challenges brought his classmates closer and gave them a greater appreciation of high school experiences they might otherwise have taken for granted or even missed altogether.

Brown, who as “PJ the Deejay” was the MC for numerous Leo events over his four years, also received the Stafford L. Hood Gold Medal for Excellence in English and the Frank W. Considine Gold Medal for Social Justice. He is headed for Southern University in Baton Rouge, La,., on scholarship for baseball and academics.

Mother’s Day set a delightful tone for the ceremony. In one highlight, each graduate presented his mom with a framed copy of a Mother’s Day poem he had written to complete his Senior English project for Mr. Titus Redmond’s class.The world-renowned Leo Choir’s four-song set featured stirring solos by senior Robert Smith (“It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye”) and sophomore Theauntae Jones (“See You Again”), as well as a lively rendition of “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” that brought the crowd to its feet to join in.

And in a speech that encapsulated the last four years, Principal Shaka Rawls reminded the graduates that the resolve they displayed in committing to their education as COVID upended their lives would serve them well as they move forward in life … as true Leo Men.

The complete list of honorees from the Class of 2022:

The William J. Koloseike Gold Medal for Athletics: Cameron Cleveland

The Bishop John R. Gorman Gold Medal for Religion: James E’Akels

The Michael L. Thompson Gold Medal for Music: Jacori Elam

The Donald F. Flynn Gold Medal for History: David Gross

The Dr. James J. Ahern Gold Medal for Science: Wellington Porter

The Thomas & Mary Owens Gold Medal for Mathematics: Cameron Cleveland

The Dr. Stafford L. Hood Gold Medal for English: Oliver Brown Jr.

The Brother James Glos Gold Medal for Foeign Language: Jakolbi Wilson

The Frank W. Considine Gold Medal for Social Justice: Oliver Brown Jr.

The Andrew J. McKenna Gold Medal for Leadership: Cameron Cleveland

Spring Showcase Featuring the World Renowned Leo Choir on May 26th

Join us on Thursday, May 26 to enjoy the great Leo Choir. The show will be in the Leo Auditorium, and will start at 6:30. We hope to see you there.

Leo’s Annual Black History Pageant

Leo’s annual Black History Pageant, held in the school auditorium on Friday, Feb. 18, seemed even more high-energy than usual because of the involvement of so many Leo students. 

Mr. Kevin Steward, who teaches biology, supervises the National Honor Society and serves as student-activities coordinator, organized the two-hour program that featured “motivational speakers, cultural custodians and teachers of the people … who empower us to follow our dreams,” in the words of BeInvinceable Productions, which provided the entertainment. 

The World-Renowned Leo Choir took center stage as the opening act, but another dozen Leo students had roles, including sophomore Keith Smith (rap) and senior Jarrett Blake (spoken word), who performed original compositions pointing out that the Black man’s struggle in America is ongoing.

Readings by seniors William Anderson, P.J. Brown, Cameron Cleveland and Jakolbi Wilson; juniors Isaiah Knox, Christopher Robinson and Thomas Sims and sophomores Christian Brockett and Zion Cornell-Strickland paid tribute to the work of such celebrated Black writers as Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, while other passages acknowledged the contributions of Black inventors Charles R. Drew (the blood bank), Lewis Latimer (the incandescent-filtered light bulb) and Garrett Morgan (the red/yellow/green stoplight).

In the midst of a soul-stirring drum performance, Deshaun and Elizabeth Newman pointed out the differences in drums from the different regions of Africa, but no matter their origin, drums played a vital role in various aspects of African culture. They also noted that American slave owners denied their enslaved people access to drums lest they communicate with the enslaved people on neighboring plantations and create unrest over their living and working conditions.   

By popular demand, Vincent Gray and Brian Kizer were back with a high-decibel spoken-word performance that brought Leo students to their feet when it was performed in this venue several months ago.

Gray is a product of the Auburn Gresham community who said he would have attended Leo if his parents had been able to afford the tuition. Thus his knowledge comes mostly from the streets, and he used common-sense street vernacular to emphasize the importance of good decision-making.

“I don’t hear no because I live in yes … Are you doing what’s necessary or what’s comfortable? … How many of you have an I-phone? How many of you have I will? … My library card is more valuable than my driver’s license because my library card takes me places my driver’s license can’t … Eighty percent of success is showing up. Eight-five percent is showing up on time … You don’t have a problem, you have a choice. A problem is an opportunity to rise to the occasion.”

Kizer said he dealt with rejection issues as a youngster—he was born out of wedlock, and his father refused to acknowledge or accept him. He seemed  headed for the street life and a “career” as a drug dealer until a cousin intervened and reminded him of the wisdom of their grandmother: “You can do more than you’re doing. You can be more than you are. You can become the man you’re supposed to be.”

Kizer closed by emphasizing the importance of belief in one’s self. ”I am water to a well. Put me anywhere on God’s green earth and I will succeed.”

Finally, what would a Leo celebration be without some recognition for Principal Shaka Rawls? This time it came from the Cook County branch of the Illinois Principals Association, which recognized Mr. Rawls as a “bridge builder,” citing Leo’s various efforts to better the lives of its Auburn Gresham neighbors.

“My name is on this plaque, but the award is for Leo High School,” Mr. Rawls said. “All of us are involved in the work that’s being recognized here today. And we intend to keep it going.”

The World Renowned Choir Performed at Halftime at Soldier Field

https://youtu.be/jRQuNN8iQnU

https://chicago.cbslocal.com/2021/12/30/leo-catholic-high-school-bears-halftime-show/

Leo Boys Choir Kicked Off Bears Halftime Entertainment on January 2

The school that played football in front of 120,000 Chicago fans in 1937 took center stage at historic Soldier Field for live halftime show

By Bill Figel, Community Contributor, Patch.com

The Leo Boys Choir regaled the Soldier Field halftime crowd Sunday with their rendition of the Blues classic “Sweet Home Chicago” during the Bears and Giants game. “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” was also featured in the Leo Boys Choir’s halftime performance Sunday during the Bears Game. 

Leo High School’s return engagement at Soldier Field speaks volumes as to how much the South Side school has evolved from its days as a gridiron powerhouse to a coveted choir group singing at halftime of the Bears contest against the New York Giants at noon.

Leo represented the Catholic League in the 1937 Prep Bowl against Austin that drew a crowd estimated at 120,000, still regarded as the largest crowd for an American football contest.

A commonplace fundraising engine, the Chicago Mayor’s Charity Game, also known as the Mayor Kelly Bowl, pitted the champion of the Chicago Catholic League against the champion of the Chicago Public League. Reportedly, everyone from politicians to firefighters were buying and selling tickets for the game.

The Chicago Tribune reported the game “raised $100,000 for the City’s Christmas Fund used to clothe needy kids.”

Hitting all the right notes will trump hitting the open receiver Sunday. Soldier Field’s halftime show was the setting for Leo Boys Choir, regarded for its versatility and harmony on and off the field.

“Presenting the arts expression of Leo to a broader audience is landmark for us,” said Leo Principal Shaka Rawls. “While sports has been our calling card for decades, academics, the arts, debate, chess and especially choir has opened doors for Leo and each Leo student heading into the world.”

Pandemic pressures have caused Leo choir to audible, adjusting its schedule to generally accommodate audience schedules. The challenged has not dampened the choir’s enthusiasm and the extensive practice has elevated their collective voice.

“When the young men perform as they did at the Four Seasons earlier in December, their spirits are lifted along with their audience,” said Choir Director Ms. LaDonna Hill. “Our young men have a resiliency that permeates beyond the choir. These life lessons dealing with adversity and still giving their best will serve them well in life.”

Leo was a repeat Prep Bowl champion in 1941-42, beating Tilden both years. In a 1956 Prep Bowl appearance the Lions enjoyed a satisfying 12-0 victory over neighborhood rival Calumet.

Leo’s most recent to visit to Soldier Field garnered a victory over Lane Tech of the Chicago Public on Friday, August 25, 2018 as part of the annual Kickoff Classic tripleheader marking the beginning of the Chicago-area high school football season. At the time it was and the Lions’ first Soldier Field appearance in 43 years, dating back to 1974 season, when a Bob Foster-coached Leo team dropped a 24-8 decision to Brother Rice in a Catholic League playoff semifinal.

The Catholic League joined the Illinois High School Association in 1974 and became eligible for IHSA-sanctioned state playoffs that robbed both the Catholic League playoffs and the Prep Bowl of much of their luster as CCL teams set their eyes on state championships. Mount Carmel, Loyola Academy and Providence Catholic have been particularly successful in that pursuit.

“What a great opportunity for our young men to perform, singing on a field where so much history has been made,” said Leo Coach Michael Holmes, a junior starter for the Lions at tight end and defensive end on the 1974 team. “We’ve been working hard to raise Leo’s profile, and being invited to sing at Soldier Field is an indication that those efforts are paying off.”

Welcome Back to Our World-Renowned Choir

By Dan McGrath

The Christmas/semester break rolls in at an optimum time for Leo High School, in part because the week leading up to it was challenging on several fronts.

Leave it to the world-renowned Leo Choir to bail us out and restore our equilibrium.

After a 20-month hiatus brought on by COVID restrictions, the Choir is back and sounding better than ever. They simply stole the show as the headline act at the Harold Washington Cultural Center’s Winter Wonderland Christmas Pageant on Saturday, Dec. 18. The 1,000-seat auditorium was up and clapping along to the Choir’s signature version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and Rob Smith’s mesmerizing rendition of “Hallelujah” prompted a standing ovation. Freshman Keith Harris’ “Give Love This Christmas” drew a similar reaction. 

Rob Smith is a two-sport athletic standout with college aspirations, but a serious knee injury in the season’s first football game has cost him his senior year of football and basketball. A tough break, but rather than pout or feel sorry for himself, Rob has poured himself into music. “Hallelujah” is a really tough song to handle, but in his debut as a soloist, Rob delivered it like a seasoned pro. We’re very proud of him.

Choir members are among the best ambassadors Leo has—not only talented singers but good students, good citizens and all-around good guys. Our peerless Choir Director LaDonna Hill is a Leo treasure and a Leo Hall of Famer, as of October 2021. And Leo High School is a special place that remains relentless in its mission: to prepare young men for lives as responsible, productive, engaged citizens. 

Factor in a 4-1 basketball team that’s No. 19 in the Chicago Sun-Times’ metro area rankings and it’s a good time to be a Leo Lion.

Chicago Magazine: Shaka Rawls, CHICAGOAN OF THE YEAR 2021

Shaka Rawls: Creating safer spaces for young men of color

As many local schools shuttered for summer break this year, Shaka Rawls, the principal of Leo Catholic High School, transformed the all-boys school into a tuition-free camp.

Rawls created what he calls an “enclave” in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood to protect the roughly 60 students who enrolled in the summer camp from the crime, poverty, gangs, and gun violence that hang low and heavy when school’s out.

“We felt like it was better to have our boys safely within our grasp,” says Rawls. “We are safer together here in this building.”

Because grades weren’t given at camp, there was no fear of making mistakes, Rawls says. There was just math, English, and ACT prep, followed by afternoons of building robots and writing code, creating mosaics, or playing with spatial articulation.

Rawls’s educational approach flows from a place of love and deep understanding. After all, the 46-year-old was once a “whippersnapper” who graduated in 1993 from the very high school he now leads. Rawls says he sees himself in his boys and them in him.

That connection works.

Since Rawls became principal in 2016, he’s instituted a science, technology, engineering, and math initiative. The high school continues to have a 100 percent graduation and college acceptance rate.

In a world where the lives of Black and brown boys on the South and West Sides of Chicago are disproportionately bombarded with things no human should have to wrestle with — fear, violence, racism, police brutality — Rawls spends his days (and many nights) nurturing, encouraging, and celebrating his 210 students, 94 percent of whom are Black, 6 percent of whom are Latino.

He and his staff work to fine-tune the students’ strengths and talents, instill a sense of purpose, and ensure they never doubt their worth. Rawls is quick to reach out if he sees one of his students wander or stumble. He estimates more than half of his students have his mobile phone number, which they use frequently.

Although he has spent the bulk of his career in administration and policy, Rawls sees himself as more of a social activist than an educator. His work, he explains, is merely a natural extension of who he is. The sense of community caregiving and advocacy Rawls promotes is an ethos, not an indoctrination, and is organic for incoming freshmen, like hopping on a train that already exists.

New students are expected to bring unique ideas to engage the community. They learn they are part of a brotherhood, in service to one another. “Our whole vocabulary is about how we are interdependent, not just inside the high school, but our community at large,” Rawls says.

This year, Rawls was inspired by a school billboard with the tagline “In a time of social distancing, Leo is bringing people together.” So he did it — virtually.

To demolish the “us and them” narrative between law enforcement and young Black and brown men, Rawls set up a series of web conferences with his students and a stream of police and military officers, FBI agents, prosecutors, and judges. The floor — or rather the chat box — was open.

The principal’s hope was that the experience would help both his students and the law enforcement officials see each other as fellow human beings.

“We wanted to dismantle this socially constructed disconnect and bring them together in the same space and realize that we all want the same thing: We have families we love; we have faith in God and community,” Rawls says. “We all want to go home at night.”

You’re Invited to Our STEM Family Night on October 7

Leo High School’s STEM Department invites you to our STEM Family Night on Thursday, October 7, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the Cafeteria.

Get ready for hands-on fun for the whole family including SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING and MATH activities!

FREE Hot dogs, chips and popcorn.

• Get extra credit
• Make slime
• Fly a glider
• Build a boat

General Walker, Our 2021 Scholarship Benefit Honoree, in the New York Times

General Walker, the 2021 Leo Scholarship Benefit Honoree, was featured in an article in the September 18 New York Times. In it he talks about how he has to secure the Capitol against another rampage like the one on January 6.

Here’s the link: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/17/us/william-walker-capitol-riot-security.html

Principal Rawls named “Man of Excellence” by the Chicago Defender

Leo Principal Shaka Rawls has been recognized as a “Man of Excellence” by the Chicago Defender, one of the nation’s oldest and most influential Black news organizations.

The Defender’s Men of Excellence awards celebrate African-American men who “inspire others through excellence, vision, leadership, exceptional achievement and a commitment to empowerment in multiple ways.”  

Other Men of Excellence honorees for 2021 include ABC-7 TV personality Hosea Sanders, 18th Ward Alderman Derrick Curtis, Metropolitan Peace Initiatives Executive Director Vaughn Bryant and State Representative Kam Buckner, a South Side Democrat from Illinois’ 26th District.

Leo’s enrollment has increased by more than 60 percent since Principal Rawls arrived in 2016. Additionally, his leadership has enabled Leo to become a truly positive force in the Auburn-Gresham community through various service projects, such as a free meals program that helped feed hundreds of families  when the COVID pandemic was at its worst in the spring and summer of 2020. 

“Everything we do at Leo is a team effort, so I accept this award on behalf of the Leo team,” Mr. Rawls said. “Coming from an organization with the history and prestige of the Chicago Defender, it is truly an honor.” 

 The Defender cites Principal Rawls and his fellow honorees as “champions of empowerment and diversity, the backbone of religious and educational organizations and driving forces in politics and community service.”

They will be honored at a dinner on Friday, Aug. 27 at Haven Entertainment Center, 930 E. 43rd Street, beginning at 6 p.m. 

Baseball Facility at St. Rita Named for Jay Standring ’66

Leo great Jay Standring ’66 will remember 2021 as a year in which he was celebrated for a life well lived.

Last May, St. Rita High School recognized Standring’s 30-plus years of service as an ever-popular  coach, teacher and mentor by naming the freshman baseball facility in his honor—Jaybird Field. 

In September, and for largely the same reasons, Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne Foundation will honor 1970 ND grad Standring with a Knute Rockne Spirit of Sports Leadership Award.

“Knute Rockne did not believe sports should be an end in themselves,” the citation states. “Rather, he saw them as a means to achieving success in life, with the lessons learned on the playing field translating to determination, teamwork and character in real life.” 

Jay Standring embraced that philosophy during his playing career, and he has embodied it throughout his coaching/teaching  career. He began it shortly after graduating from Notre Dame, where he earned two letters, intercepted three passes and played on two Cotton Bowl teams under Coach Ara Parseghian, whom he viewed as a role model.

“Every coach I played for had an impact on my life, and I went into coaching hoping to give kids opportunities similar to the ones I had,” Standring said.

He currently coaches freshman football and baseball at St. Rita. He has always preferred working at the lower levels; in many cases he’s the first coach a young athlete encounters, and he goes out of his way to make sure the experience is a positive one. The Rockne Award surely proves that coaching has been a positive experience for Jay Standring.

“It was never about recognition,” he said, “but an award like this from Notre Dame, which will always hold a special place in my heart … I’ve had a great life.”