How a grade-school speech contest led a South Sider to send his boys to Fenwick — despite proximity to two other high-school options near Countryside/La Grange.
By Patrick Heslin
The road to Fenwick for my boys started when my son Patrick was in the 5th grade. He attended St. Cletus La Grange and brought a letter home about a Fenwick speech contest one day.
I grew up on the southside in Englewood and knew very little about Fenwick. I lived about a ½ mile from the original St. Rita High School at 63rd and Claremont in Chicago. On Sunday afternoons I would occasionally attend football games in their walled-in stadium. I could get in for 50 cents, if I had to pay at all, and the hot dogs with mustard were my Sunday dinner. What I vividly remember was St. Rita playing on a hot Sunday afternoon against a Fenwick team dressed in black. I thought these guys had to be tough wearing black in that sun!
Fast forward a few years. I am now a dad and I am reading this invitation to the Fenwick speech contest. My career has been in technology sales, and the only public speaking I have had is a class in college and a Toastmasters class when I got my first sales job. Toastmasters is a great, community-based public speaking program where you learn by writing and delivering speeches to your peers.
Throughout my career I have always looked at how effortlessly some people are able to speak in front of an audience while others look like a deer in headlights. In these situations, I am often reminded of the quote from Jerry Seinfield: “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
I am sure that all the above experiences were going through my mind when I committed to taking Patrick to his first speech contest at Fenwick in 5th grade. The speech contest was on an early Saturday morning in November. Walking up to Fenwick for the first time can be intimidating! It’s got that Gothic look to it. We made it to the cafeteria and met our very small team from St. Cletus. We were surrounded by many larger teams from other Catholic grade schools.
Andy Arellano welcomed us and explained the rules for the contest. Then Andy took some time to talk about Fenwick. You could tell he was passionate about it as Andy explained the history of Fenwick and why it was a great choice for my son’s high school education. He may also have mentioned at some point that he was a White Sox fan, so I then knew he was also a man of great intelligence.
Time to Choose
As they say, “rinse and repeat,” so we did the speech contest for three more years. I actually became a judge in the contest in subsequent years. Fast forward and Patrick is now in 8th grade. I tell Patrick that we live within a mile of two great schools, but immediately I could see in his face that his heart was elsewhere. I told him it would be four years of taking trains and buses if he went to Fenwick, and he told me he would walk every day if he had to.