CLARK — Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was originally scheduled as a school holiday for Clark Public Schools. However, when Hurricane Sandy forced the schools to close for six days in October and November, the administration had to make some changes to the calendar.
In the case of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Superintendent Kenneth Knops remarked “When you are given lemons, you learn to make lemonade. I was disappointed when we had to restore this holiday as a school day, however I was delighted with the programs of commemoration and remembrance of Dr. King that we held district-wide.”
At Frank K. Hehnly School, officials held a commemorative program with remarks from Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso and state Sen. Teresa Ruiz. Bonaccorso highlighted Dr. King’s ideals and how the participants in the upcoming program would idealize his vision. Ruiz, a child of parents who entered this country from Puerto Rico in the 1950s, accepted numerous challenges in her quest to continually better herself, and ultimately was elected to the New Jersey Senate, where she is the first Latina to serve in the upper body of the State Legislature.
Ruiz then took the microphone to spirited applause from the student body comprised of third, fourth, and fifth graders. She spoke of the characteristics of vision and determination, setting goals, and aspiring to new challenges. The Senator extolled the impressionable elementary school audience to always give their personal best and to strive to set goals and keep their dreams focused on their goals. After her well-received motivational talk, the Senator fielded questions from an enthusiastic audience, ranging from biographical questions to how she became a Senator.
Bonaccorso returned to the podium to introduce the second guest of the morning, former National Football League star Al Singleton. Singleton graduated nearby Irvington High School and went on to play football and graduate from Temple University. He was then drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1997, and played six seasons with the Bucs, culminating with his being on the Tampa Bay Super Bowl champions of 2003. Singleton then spent the next four years playing with the Dallas Cowboys.
The student audience, adorned a wide variety of professional sports team shirts, including many with the Dallas Cowboys’ logo, gave Al Singleton a warm round of applause. He went on to discuss his eleven year career and the numerous challenges and hardships he faced along the way. He described a typical day as a professional football player, beginning with workouts at 6 a.m., and continuing with rigorous workouts and preparation throughout the day. He highlighted the ultimate satisfaction of being on a Super Bowl championship team, the culmination of a life dedicated since sixth grade to playing football. During a follow up question and answer period, he fielded numerous questions from the impressionable audience of eight to eleven year olds, ranging from what it was like to play in the NFL to what was the first football team he ever played on.
Knops commented, “We couldn’t have had two more idealistic role models than Senator Ruiz and Al Singleton. Both achieved their ultimate dreams in their respective careers and each serves as the ultimate guiding light, role model, and mentor to impressionable students. I am grateful to both Senator Ruiz and Al Singleton, they certainly invoked the spirit and vision of Dr. King with their motivational talks.”