By Chanda Temple
The gym at Birmingham’s Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle School erupted into cheers this afternoon as No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Jameis Winston entered.
Winston, newly recruited to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, first joked about how the students could thank him for getting them out of class. He smiled. So did the students. But then things turned serious as he told students he was there to discuss three things: good grades, the way they carry themselves and confidence.
He asked students how many of them have good grades. Some laughed. He saw it as a teaching moment, encouraging students not to laugh at students making good grades because those students may be president one day.
“Don’t be ashamed about making good grades now,” he said, adding that good grades will lead to scholarships. The Hueytown, Ala. native received a scholarship to play at Florida State University, where he helped the school win a national championship and he was named a Heisman Trophy winner.
“I went to school for free, man!” he said.
He recently signed a four-year, $23.5 million rookie contract with the Buccaneers.
He then asked students how many of them wanted to be doctors or work in successful professions. To get there, one has to have good grades, Winston said. He added that having good grades will take one farther in life than having a pretty smile. Education is important and so is studying.
Winston’s speech also covered the importance of looking presentable, walking with dignity, being positive and believing in one’s self.
He tailored a segment of his speech to make sure that male and female students understood their worth and beauty, telling male students to say,”I’m powerful. I am smart. I am confident. I am smart.” He told the female students to say, “I am beautiful. I am smart. I am strong. I am smart.”
“Every lady in here is beautiful,” he said. “Look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m beautiful.”’
“For my fellas say, ‘I’m the greatest,”’ he said.
“You have something unique about you. You can do anything you put your mind to,” Winston said.
He then stressed the importance of the students telling themselves that they were smart.
“Everybody in here is smart. I don’t want you to tell yourself, ‘Shoot, I’m not smarter than him.”’
“As long as you are smart. As long as you abide by the rules, you can do anything that you put your mind to,” he said. “…Tell yourself you are smart. When you tell yourself you’re smart, when you tell yourself something over and over again, it becomes a reality.”
Nicholas Kimble, 12, sat on the front row, holding his cell phone and recording every word of Winston’s speech. (His principal allowed students to take photos and video for the event.)
“I’m going to cherish it,” he said of his recording.
“I thank Jameis Winston for coming to our school and giving a good speech about life,” Nicholas said. “It was amazing how he was talking and how everyone was engaged.”
Winston came to speak to the students today as a way to give back and to motivate them, he said. (Tarria Walters, a teacher at the school, invited Winston to speak today. Her brother, Richard Rabb, works with Winston.)
Principal Rameka Davis said she was happy her students had the opportunity to hear Winton.
“What (his speech) did for them is it helped them remember that if you have confidence, if you study hard and if you focus on your goals, you can accomplish anything,” Davis said. “And this experience opened their eyes of what can be for them.”