Guest speaker uses humor to push students to believe in themselves

The Baltimore Sun

With stories about kids who pick their noses and jokes about Superman's funny clothes, guest speaker Aric Bostick charmed his audience at Wilde Lake Middle School yesterday.

Speaking to sixth-graders and seventh-graders in a packed and rowdy auditorium, Bostick, 32, combined humor and personal stories with his message about how to succeed in life.

"He was cool," seventh-grader Jazzman Otey, 11, said when it was over. "He was funny."

Rae Diaz, 12, and also in seventh grade, said he was motivated to follow his dream of becoming a Major League shortstop or pitcher.

Bostick, who is based in San Antonio, Texas, was invited to the school by health teacher Sandy Bresnick, who had heard him speak a couple of years ago at a leadership conference for students in grades four and five. "He's just a great speaker for kids," she said. "He's so engaging. He uses humor with the kids. He finds a way to relate to the things that all students have gone through."

Bostick seems to understand that life can be difficult for middle-schoolers. He believes most kids come from families that are dysfunctional in some way, he said. "My goal is to give them hope," he said. "The main thing is to get them believe that they are good enough. They're capable."

His life story is part of his message. Bostick, who grew up in Texas, said his parents were divorced, and in middle school and high school he was teased for being short. As an adult, he had $42,000 in credit card debt.

But he was determined to change, he said, and he did. At one point, he showed his audience a magazine picture of a silver BMW convertible. He said he wanted a car like that but couldn't afford it. He vowed to get out of debt and save his money. Now he drives just such a car, he said.

Bostick spoke to students in two sessions, then held a smaller workshop for students in Bridges Over Wilde Lake, an after-school academic and enrichment program.

In both groups, Bostick, a fountain of energy with blue eyes and spiked blond hair, continually urged his audience to participate. At one point, he got students in the larger group to shout in unison the career they hoped to have.

"I want to tell you how to make that dream come true," he said. "You have to take action." He paused. "You have to take what?"

"Action," the students screamed back at him.

"You have to start programming yourself from the inside out," he said. He spoke of people he has met who say they want to be a pro football player, but don't make the time to practice, or say they want to be a veterinarian, but don't try hard in their science classes.

Then he urged the students to shout, "I'm awesome." At the end of the program, he gave every student a sticker with those words.

His next step was to tell the students to be kind to one another. "If you feel good about you, you feel good about everybody," he said. He noted that kindergarten kids all play together without worrying who is cool and who is not. They don't even mind picking each other's nose, he joked, miming just such a scene and making the students shout with laughter.

But as the kindergartners grow up, they start being cruel to each other, he said. He asked the students to raise their hands if they had ever snubbed somebody in the hall, and then he asked for a show of hands from anybody who has had their day brightened by a kind word or smile.

Toward the end of the presentation, he whipped off his shirt to reveal a Superman top, complete with red cape, underneath. "Superman wears red underwear on the outside of his pants," he said. "He was probably made fun of." But since Superman is a Man of Steel, he lets criticism bounce off him, said Bostick.

"Who here knows there are going to be a few haters out there who will try to keep you from your dreams and goals?" he asked. Nearly every student raised an arm in the air.

When the presentation was over, Taylor Stewart, 12, a seventh-grader, said she had found it energizing. "I was really sleepy before I came here," she said. "But now I'm up."

She said Bostick had a "lot of personality," and she thought she had learned something valuable. "He was like, you have to tell yourself you're awesome. You can't put yourself down," she said.

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