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Byrd Students Have a “Sweet” Visit for Career Day from Jarrett Payton

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Ask any child what they want to be when they grow up, and you’re likely to get both common and uncommon answers. A doctor, a teacher, a police officer, a firefighter, an astronaut, a dancer, and of course, a professional athlete, be it with the NHL, WNBA, NFL, or other professional sport.

On May 4, Admiral Byrd Elementary School had a special guest come to speak about his career in professional sports and beyond. Jarrett Payton, son of Chicago Bears’ beloved Walter Payton, volunteered his time at Byrd to share his experiences about not only the various interesting careers he’s had, but about the importance of seeing the bigger picture as well.

Payton began his visit by joking around with the office staff and playfully pranking other presenters. He joked with a presenter from the NHL about the enormous bag of props he had brought by asking if there was an NHL player inside the bag. One of the staff member’s spouses was presenting, an architect who had drawn an intricate building plan on a whiteboard. With a huge grin, Payton turned the whiteboard backwards and said “let’s tell him we erased it!”

While Payton built his own impressive career as a player for the Tennessee Titans in the US as well as for teams in NFL Europe and the Canadian Football League, he did not choose to open his presentation speaking about it. Nor did he start off talking about his successful career in sports television and radio, including Comcast SportsNet Chicago or his radio show, or any of his other successful business ventures.

Instead, he began with a story about his own childhood days, when his father brought him to a Toys R Us store around Christmas time, so the younger Payton could pick out whatever toys he wanted. He built up the story as he told it, including how he was asked to pick out toys for his sister, and selected “every Barbie accessory that was available that year.” He told of packing up the vehicles with many carts worth of toys; driving past the Portillo’s where he thought they were going to eat lunch; and instead, drove to an apartment complex.

Turns out, the toys weren’t for the Payton family at all; they were for a few families that Walter Payton had heard weren’t having a Christmas, and every single toy was donated to the families in need. That was the first time Jarrett Payton experienced what he calls his “tingly” feeling, and Payton told the students that feeling was the most important thing you need to pursue in a career.

He stressed to the students that finding what you love to do, no matter what it is, is the most important factor in choosing a profession. He told them that the “tingly” feeling he described means you have found something that ignites your passion, and he told the students that marrying his wife and holding his son and daughter were other examples of being touched deeply and experiencing that joyful feeling.

Telling stories and using humor, Payton touched on some other important themes, too, including being flexible and looking for opportunities, working hard and giving your best, taking in advice and guidance of trusted adults, and earning good grades. He stressed to the students to listen very carefully to all the speakers and to be respectful of all the professions.

The day Payton came to speak at Byrd was centered around careers related to sports. Byrd school had sports professionals of all kinds represented, including the athletic director from Harper College, a business official from the NHL, and others.

“Although many children dream of being professional athletes, very few actually become paid professional athletes,” said Mary Ellen Esser, principal of Byrd Elementary. “We felt it was important for students to see they can still pursue their passion for sports by working in sports in other capacities, too.”

In addition to “sports jobs” day, the students had the opportunity to hear all about professions of all kinds for the whole week, including a pilot, flight attendant, fire fighter, police officer, nurse, physical therapist, artist, IT professional, architect, and many others.

Esser said the entire week was made possible by a community effort of many professionals. Harper College helped Byrd school pull it all together by speaking to students about college: what it is, the importance of attending college, pursuing passions through education and introducing the Harper Promise Program Scholarship. Students learned about the expectations and criteria they must meet in high school to become eligible for the scholarship, which provides two years of college education for free.

“We are so grateful to all the volunteers from both Harper Community College and the many parents and friends of Byrd who came to talk to students about their career path, jobs and pursuing their passions,” said Esser. “One of the many highlights was Jarrett Payton stressing the importance of looking for things that spark your passion as a child and working hard to achieve your goals. Many other guest speakers also spoke to our students about pursuing their passions and working hard; something that we strive for everyday in CCSD59.”

Or, as a young Jarrett Payton might have called it, finding that “tingly” feeling, because, as he summarized well, “When you love what you do, it’s like you never have worked a day in your life.”

 

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