Each year, Morgan Park Academy begins graduation season by celebrating seniors’ college choices on National College Decision Day on May 1. This year, we were joined by Chicago alderman Jason Ervin ’92, who spoke to Upper School students about how his MPA experience laid the foundation for future success.

A transcript of his remarks:

Diversity in this school was key. I’m a black kid who grew up on the South Side of Chicago … and fortunately for me, I was able to come to the Academy. I didn’t have to go through some of the struggles and challenges a lot of my neighbors had.

This was a diverse student body, a wealth of opportunities to give you the chance to do what you wanted to do. It gave you enough room to really kind of find yourself. I graduated in a class of 36 that looked like the rest of America — actually, that looked like the rest of the world — and that was very key as I left here to go to college at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale … [to study] business and accounting.

One thing that I will say is that you all have the excellent opportunity to change your mind about some things, but use this time as you get ready to go to college and as you finish up your high school careers to figure out, what is it that you like to do? What is it that you love? What is it that you’re passionate about? What is it you don’t like? Who is it you don’t like?

Try to work through those things, because as you leave — I called this the cocoon, because once you leave here, the world outside of here is a lot different than what you found here. One thing that I can definitely remember from the first day that I set foot on a college campus down in Carbondale, Illinois, was that there were 20,000 students and I was used to being in a class of 13 and now I’m in a lecture hall larger than this theater.

So cherish what you all have here, because when you leave here, you might not see something similar to this until you get to grad school, where you have the smaller class sizes and more intimate relationships with your professors and your classmates. When you leave here, you will be taking English with the grad assistant who has no idea who you are or where you come from.

The final thing that I want to talk about is what MPA has done to prepare me for life going forward.

I’ve been in three careers since I left the Academy. I started out … at Arthur Andersen as an accountant, an auditor, when I graduated from college. I left that and started my own business back in 2000, about the time that most of you were born. This firm collapsed under the weight of Enron. … That taught me [to embrace] the flexibility that things may change. That doesn’t mean that you have to fail in the change, because we have to be able to adapt to the situations that are going on around us.

So I left Arthur Andersen and started my own business. I was a real estate professional and developer. I did that for a number of years and got tired and bored of that, but the key to all of that was having the knowledge and the ability to think. That’s one thing that this school taught me was how to be a critical thinker, because if you have the ability to navigate and negotiate, you can make whatever path it is that you choose.

Ultimately I ended up becoming an elected official. I’m one of 50 members of the Chicago City Council. I work with our mayor and, actually, your alderman here in the Beverly community, Alderman Matt O’Shea. He always asks me and I always talk about the Academy and make sure that everything is going well out here and everything’s OK, because of all the love that I have for the school and the ability that government has to make lives better for people. That is another value that we learned here at the Academy, to look out for your fellow man or fellow woman.

And with that, I just really want each and every one of you all to have great success. I know that some of you have your first choice, your second choice, or your third choice of schools of where you wanted to attend, but I’ve always said make your next move your best move. I think that with the knowledge and the skills that you all have acquired here at MPA, I have no doubt that each and every one of you will do that.

Thank you all and God bless you.