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Start Strong! Stay Strong! Finish Strong! :: Inspiration delivered by inner-city youth.

One of my greatest joys in life comes when I am standing in front of an audience delivering my message of the power of enthusiasm. This is especially true when the audience is made up of all ages.


While many of my engagements are keynotes at universities, conferences, corporate awards programs, and charity galas, I also enjoy speaking to smaller groups and schools. I’ve found that one presentation always leads to another.


Recently, I received a request to give the commencement address at an inner-city elementary school in San Antonio. The words in the email, written by a passionate teacher named Joanna Vargas, jumped out from my computer screen.


Ms. Vargas wrote, “I strongly believe my reason for being present at your speech at Barnes and Noble during Braille Awareness Week was because your life story could be a true inspiration for the students from our community.


The Villarreal community is composed of many different cultures to include 120 5th graders who are 93% Hispanic, 5% White, 2% Black, and 1% Asian/Pacific Islander. However, the greatest impact in their life is their family dynamics. We have children that come from broken homes: CPS interventions, parents in jail, grandparents as guardians, and homeless, and this life experience is brought daily into the classrooms which greatly molds their perspective of their future. Our approach to educating them about the benefits of continuing their education is through goal setting and exposing them to the possibilities of getting out of the cycle through a college education.


When you spoke about your book, Living with Enthusiasm, it reminded me of our goal. At Villarreal we have a motto that we live by every day, ‘We Start Strong, Stay Strong, and Finish Strong,’ and this is the message that was expressed in your speech. We teach our students strategies to start, stay, and finish strong, but we need to talk to them about the attitude during those times that test our confidence. We can achieve our goals if we stay positive regardless of the obstacles.”


I accepted her invitation and at the event, as I walked among the students to entertain and deliver my words of encouragement, the faces looking back were filled with hope, wonder, and pride. My reason for coming to Eduardo Villarreal Elementary was evident.


Without realizing it, Joanna Vargas had done more than book a speaker for the graduation. She had lifted the spirits even higher of someone who saw the rewarding results of teachers dedicated to the students they love. You see, no one was more inspired, that morning in June, than the man invited to stand behind the microphone.


Thank you, Ms. Vargas.


Sonny Melendrez is an inspirational keynote speaker, based San Antonio. He is the author of “The Art of Living With Enthusiasm!”. Email: sonny@sonnyradio.com or visit SonnyMelendrez.com.

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