"Be a Champion."
The expression certainly speaks for itself.
Tuesday night at Baruch College in New York, N.Y., 100 middle and high school students, were recognized as winners from an essay contest on the topic. Jets quarterback Greg McElroy personally congratulated the winners on their accomplishment.
"You don't understand how impressive it is," McElroy told the students. "Over 300 people submitted essays around New York City. You guys won. You guys are champions. You guys won this competition."
The second-year Jet made a speech to the students describing how he was a terrible athlete growing up, yet he never lost belief in himself. He strongly encouraged them that they can improve in something every day, providing examples such as holding the door for someone or saying the words "please" and "thank you."
"Every day I go out there with the intent and the hope that I get better in one specific thing," he said. "Maybe I'll spin it a little bit better. Maybe I'll drop back a little bit farther. Say I was dropping back to 5 yards. Maybe I need to take it to 6. Today I'm going to work on that. You can do that in every way of your life."
Along with McElroy, the ceremony featured remarks from Nate Walcker and Corinne Rello-Anselmi. Walcker, a Wall Street banker and Lime Connect almunus and board member, told the students of how he wears hearing aids and is technically deaf at high frequencies. He told a personal story of how people questioned him in high school when he said he wanted to try out for the football team. Yet he didn't let their doubts stop him. He ended up making his high school's squad and later earned a scholarship to play at Columbia.
"If I wouldn't have listened to myself and had confidence in myself in my abilities, where would I be today?" Walcker asked the winners. "Surely I could certainly be in the same place, could have gone to Columbia, could have interned at a Merrill Lynch and worked on Wall Street. But who knows? To me, that's what being a champion is all about. It's about taking a chance on yourself and believing in yourself and not taking no for an answer."
Rello-Anselmi, deputy chancellor for the Division of Students with Disability and English Language Learners, highlighted three moving essays and one that was written by a student that suffers from personality difficulties. The student had been home-schooled until recently, when she finally developed the courage to make friends.
From Rello-Anselmi's perspective, McElroy was the perfect candidate to speak to the essay winners.
"I think they know Greg's story," she said. "I mean, everyone knows Greg's story. I think that he's a true inspiration in the fact that he led his team to victory. He believed in himself. He did the job. I think everybody rallied around him. He didn't hold himself back or believe he couldn't. With everything that's going on around, he still is a team player."
McElroy closed his speech by stressing to the winners how grateful he was to have the opportunity to speak with them. He also made sure to thank the teachers in attendance and the parents for being motivating figures to their kids. He explained how his dad is his best friend and that not a day goes by where he doesn't reach out to him. And he added that it was his kindergarten teacher who taught him about sharing, appreciation and thankfulness.
"Please continue to empower your kids," McElroy addressed the parents, "because I wouldn't be where I am without my parents. I wouldn't have the things that I have if it weren't for my parents who said, 'Go for it.' "
Following the speech, each winner was awarded the opportunity to meet No. 14 for the Green & White and receive a signed certificate of achievement by him. Many of the winners also posed for photos with the QB.
"This is something they'll take away with them," Rello-Anselmi said. "They'll have their certificate, they'll have their picture, and they will remember that there was a time when people said, 'Yep, go for it,' and they did."
The "Be a Champion" contest was designed to encourage students with disabilities to reflect on achievement and success as they prepare for the challenges of high school and set goals for life after graduation. "There's so many ways that you can be a champion," McElroy said. "Not necessarily in hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. You have to become a champion off the field. You have to be a champion in your own mind. You have to believe that you can achieve anything in order to be able to eventually get to where you want to go. It's definitely a theme that's been played out throughout my life, just constantly being able to overcome obstacles and things like that. I'm very, very grateful that I had the support system and I had people to encourage me along the way."