Pain doesn't stop student from touting education support

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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Cameron Caldwell considered it a great honor to be picked as the student to address about 600 people at the Archbishop's Gala benefiting the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation in late April.

The senior at Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School planned to tell the crowd how much students accomplish thanks to their generous support, which makes all of the difference to students such as himself. He was primed and ready for the festivities that evening in the Khorassan Ballroom at the Chase Park Plaza.

But first, he would join classmates for an afternoon of paintball, a fun senior-week outing just a few weeks before graduation. He'd have plenty of time to clean up and dress up for the Gala ...

Except for that pesky log.

Caldwell dived onto it avoiding a paintball, and landed square on his shoulder.

Ouch.

At that moment, the prudent course of action would have been to head to the emergency room for treatment and to pass along regrets for the Archbishop's Gala.

But the gala was too important for him to miss.

So, like a postman -- through rain, heat or bodily injury -- Caldwell made his appointed round, ignoring the pain and addressing the crowd as scheduled. The E.R. visit would wait until after the gala.

"I couldn't bring myself to do you all a disservice by missing out on this opportunity to express my gratitude," he told the crowd. "I can't express enough how grateful I am that people like all of you believe in me and the youth of St. Louis to invest the time, money and support to help us realize our dreams."

In a few months, Caldwell's dreams will take him from his hometown of Jennings to Jackson, Miss., on a full academic scholarship at Jackson State University.

"If it hadn't been for you, I don't know where I would be or what I would be involved in," said Caldwell, who noted that friends "I used to play video games with, laugh with and joke with aren't going to graduate."

The scholarship to Cardinal Ritter -- funded by the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation -- put him on a different path.

"All I had to do was work hard and stay on track," said Caldwell, who did that and more. The student-body president, he's also president of "The Brotherhood," salutatorian of his class, and "a model citizen," Ritter principal Michael Blackshear said.

Caldwell, who leads the school in prayer on the public-address system each morning, called Cardinal Ritter Prep "my home away from home" with people -- friends and teachers -- who have "made a lasting impact on me. I've made lifelong friendships, and I have network opportunities out of this world, all because I received a top-notch education.

"I learned vital life skills. I learned how to take the initiative and seize every opportunity that came my way. ... I've grown and I've been molded into a person my parents can be proud of."

Caldwell closed with a quote that resonated.

"It said, 'You make a living by what you get; but you make a life by what you give,'" he said. "Ladies and gentleman, my life has definitely been made and I want to thank you once again."

Later, Today and Tomorrow executive director Sharon Gerken called Caldwell's address "a grand slam. He was excellent. Very impressed with the young man."

The gala this year raised more than $700,000 to fund scholarships through Today and Tomorrow, a far cry from the $125,000 they raised at a dinner before the arrival of Archbishop Robert J. Carlson six years ago. Archbishop Carlson made education a priority, and Today and Tomorrow has become the fourth largest such scholarship program in the country, according to foundation chairman Kevin Short.

Thanks to the gala, Today and Tomorrow has grown "to heights that we never imagined," Short said.

More than 4,000 students received foundation scholarships for the 2014-15 school year. In the foundation's class of 2014, 100 percent of eighth-grade graduates went on to high school, including 71 percent to private or parochial schools. Further, 89 percent of high school graduates among foundation alums are in college. Founded in 1991, Today and Tomorrow has given $65 million in scholarships to 21,000 students.

"Since 1991, Today and Tomorrow has worked tirelessly to make Catholic education accessible, affordable and available," Archbishop Carlson said, adding that donors' generosity "allows us to help more and more families."

Gerken called donors, including Short and gala presenting sponsors Rita and Mike Mooney, "really good people whose hearts are committed to helping young people get a good, quality Catholic education."

And what does good, quality Catholic education mean to a person?

Everything, according to hometowner Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the Archbishop of New York. The graduate of Holy Infant School in Ballwin was guest of honor at the gala and received an award named in honor of Today and Tomorrow founder Sister Mary Ann Eckhoff, SSND, for his long-standing support of Catholic education.

"This boy from the great Archdiocese of St. Louis owes everything to Catholic education," he said, simply.

Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation
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