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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

"Talent, Character, and Class"

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer
E-Mail: WillWalsh@aol

When Major League Baseball calls, people usually answer the phone. Most drop what they're doing for that once-in-a-lifetime chance to appear in the "big leagues." Except for one very exceptional Billerica High School student, who basically told the Boston Red Sox, "Sorry. I've got a promise to keep in Billerica. You come second to the Billerica High Musical."

Jenny Baldwin, a Billerica High School senior, has been singing the national anthem at the beginning of BMHS home basketball and hockey games for some time now. So when the Lowell Loch Monsters professional hockey team was looking around for someone to sing the Star Spangled Banner before their home contests, they called upon Jenny.

Last week, she got a phone call from the Boston Red Sox. They were looking for a national anthem singer for Red Sox home games this year, and they'd heard about Jenny, too. They wanted her to sing this year at Fenway Park, starting with Opening Day - last Tuesday. No audition. No application. They wanted HER. Would she like to sing the national anthem on Opening Day of the 1999 Red Sox season?

Jenny checked her schedule. "Sorry," she said. "That's the date of dress rehearsal for the annual high school musical, "Once Upon a Mattress", and I'm one of the leads. I can't miss rehearsal. How about some other time?"

I don't know if the Boston Red Sox were surprised by her answer, but I wasn't. Not only is it a reflection of this fine young woman's sense of duty and the importance to her of following through on a promise, but Jenny's just one of the literally hundreds of talented and exceptional people who have appeared on stage at Billerica High. She (and they) realize how exciting, important, and rewarding it is to be a part of our local musical tradition.

I wonder if the rest of the town does, too.

In a media world where mediocrity often passes for talent, where special effects are often used to disguise a lack of skill, and where the most important character trait seems to be the ability to call attention to yourself, the Billerica High Musical remains not only a training ground for young talent, but also for the development of character.

The young men and women who perform in the annual Musical are no doubt talented. One BMHS alumni has already appeared on Broadway and in countless touring companies of national shows, making a living as an actor. Two others have issued their own compact discs. Yet another has written the score for TV movies and PBS special productions. Dozens more have appeared in local theater productions. And then of course, there's Jenny, who got the call from the Red Sox and asked them to wait. There is no doubt that the BMHS stage is often a first step to other endeavors (perhaps bigger, but not better).

But for the 18 years I've been working with these fine young men and women, it's not their talent that impresses me most, but their character.


It's easy to see, but hard to define.

It's part integrity, part maturity,with a dash of honesty (to both yourself and others), mixed with a willingness to work for years perfecting your craft. It's 18-hour days and maintaining perspective and even grace in the midst of them. It's supporting and working with others - some who are more talented than you perhaps, some less - but working together for a greater purpose. It's class. And when you have it, it shines like a beacon through everything that you do, illuminating and warming both you and those around you.

There are other wonderful examples of talent, hard work, of this genuinely outstanding character at Billerica High School: athletic teams and marching bands and math clubs and a dozen other student endeavors that all can point to examples of kids who combine heart and ability and soul quietly and regularly. It's just that at this time of year I see and work with the Musical kids every day. Like the others, they are very special in the way they develop and offer their skills to those of us who live in Billerica.

It is a joy to behold, in each of them individually and as a group, collectively.

Perhaps you'll attend a Red Sox game at Fenway Park this summer. And perhaps you'll recognize a familiar voice singing the National Anthem. And if you find yourself standing a just little taller, listening a just little more intently, feeling something just a little extra in your soul as you hear the song, it will be not only the tune itself nor only local pride knowing that the singer is from your home town. But maybe . . . just maybe . . . it will be the recognition that behind that voice stands a young woman of both wonderful talent and outstanding character, an example of what's good and notable and even admirable in our youth today.

And that's worth waiting for.

Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.