Grosse Pointe FarmsApril 25, 2013
Santorum events draw large crowds to Grosse Pointe South
By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer
Former Sen. Rick Santorum speaks to a crowd of students at Grosse Pointe South High School April 24.
With a large American flag and Young Americans for Freedom banners as the backdrop, former senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum told students at Grosse Pointe South what it takes to be a leader.
Santorum addressed a gym packed with high school students for the student speech April 24 and then hundreds of residents during an after-school question-and-answer event in South’s gym.
“We had over a thousand students,” Superintendent Thomas Harwood said. “We should be very proud of what took place this afternoon.
“I was very pleased with Mr. Santorum’s interaction with our students,” Harwood said. “Our students were very respectful and appreciative of him taking the time to come to our school system.”
The speech was made possible through a fundraising effort by the school’s Young Americans for Freedom group.
What ultimately ended up a popular event among South students and the community who came out to hear Santorum speak started on rocky footing.
The speech was initially set, then cancelled over concerns that he had not spoken at other high schools and the district couldn’t get an advanced copy of the speech to ensure the focus was on leadership and service. Then, the speech was back on with an opt-in process for students, which upset some in the community who thought it should have been opt-out like other past events.
Some in the community were also disappointed when they discovered that the speech would not be open to the public, but it was streamed live on the Internet. To accommodate those who wanted to take part, the district worked with Santorum to add a question-and-answer session after the school day ended.
Prior to the speech, South junior and Young Americans for Freedom member Chaz Bilderbeck said he believes opportunities like this event are important because they can open minds to other people around them.
“It will help us learn both sides instead of just staying in a middle ground,” he said.
He said he was excited to hear Santorum speak and hoped to hear how he would help motivate students and give advice on seeking out leadership opportunities.
Junior and Young Americans for Freedom member Conrad Schaitberger also believed students would be able to take something from the event no matter what their political perspective.
“Students at this age will be old enough to take what they want (from it),” he said, adding that he was happy that they were able to host the event. “I played a part in organizing this event and I’m happy that it’s occurring.”
Senior Langston Bowens, chair of the South chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom, called Santorum his hero when he introduced him to the crowd.
“This is an historic moment for Grosse Pointe South High School and the Grosse Pointe School System,” he said.
“His leadership can inspire all young leaders,” he said.
Santorum responded to Bowens' introduction.
“I feel very honored to be called your hero,” he said.
In the end, the speech for the students did center on leadership and service with Santorum sending out a message to motivate students to take on positive leadership roles in the community and work hard to serve others.
“The question for you is not whether you will be leaders … but what kind of leaders will you be?” Santorum said.
Santorum referenced Martin Luther King Jr. several times in his speech. He talked about his growing up as the son of a hardworking immigrant father and made students laugh with some of his stories about his time campaigning. While the discussion was centered on motivating students, he did mention his political views on welfare reform, the biggest national security threats from other nations and media bias during the speech and question-and-answer session.
His message centered on hard work, perseverance and truth.
“Habits matter,” he told the students. “What you do every day is who you are. Every day is part of your life’s work.
“People see what you do,” Santorum said. “You don’t have to tell them that you’re a great leader. They see that you’re a great leader.”
Santorum told the students that they can make a difference.
“If you decide that you want to get involved as a citizen of this country and do something, you will be amazed at the difference you can make,” he said. “You can be heard.”
He answered student questions that ranged from what he feels are the careers of the future to what he believes is missing from today’s youth.
“You’ve been lied to by a culture that tells you it’s all about you,” Santorum said, as he emphasized service to others during the question-and-answer session. “You grow more by service than you do by consuming.”
After the student session, South students erupted in applause as they stood in the crowded auditorium.
“With becoming a leader, there is a lot of hard work that comes with it,” freshman Avery Tucker said about some of what she took from the speech.
Junior Madeleine Lowell said she “learned that it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to get where you need to be, no matter what you want to do.”
During the after-school event, Santorum talked about what he discussed with the students and mentioned how the students did make a difference when it came to having their voices heard on the possibility of not having the speech.
“That’s something that, hopefully, is a good message from this,” Santorum said.
During that session, Santorum answered questions from the crowd and touched on several topics, including his concern as to where the nation is headed.
Local resident Carol Hackelman, who came with her husband, Jay, to hear Santorum, said that she was pleased that the school board and administration were able to work through the issues so that Santorum could make his visit to the school.
“I respect Mr. Santorum because I feel that he is a man of character and that he speaks the truth in love,” she said. “I very much respect the Young Americans for Freedom students.”
One resident apologized to Santorum about the issues leading up to the event and asked if he would forgive them.
“My feeling is that, as most things in my life has, it’s all turned out for the best,” Santorum said, adding that he would return if he was in the area to talk some more in the future. “I certainly will remember Grosse Pointe South for the rest of my life.”