Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill visited Oak Mountain Intermediate School on Friday, March 25 as part of the school’s fourth-grade character assembly. Merrill talked to the students about his position in state government and the duties of Secretary of State. He also shared his background of growing up in the small town of Heflin and about his first successful “campaign” to become president of the Student Government Association at the University of Alabama.
Merrill was invited to the speak at OMIS by Jane Haines, a fourth-grade teacher who first met him in 1986 while the two were attending college together. Haines was working at the student newspaper, The Crimson White, when Merrill was campaigning for SGA president.
“The reason I asked him to speak to you today was because of his candidacy at that time (he had some major obstacles in his way), how it turned out, and what has happened since then for him to become the state of Alabama’s Secretary of State,” she told the fourth-graders during the assembly.
According to Principal Pat LeQuier, the school’s focus this year as been on developing a growth mindset, which encourages students to think positively, learn from mistakes, and to embrace and persevere through challenges just to name a few.
In addition to his own background, Merrill shared three different stories with the students about individuals who had to overcome obstacles in order to succeed in life. The stories were about a man named “James Earl”, who struggled to be accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy and then into the Navy’s nuclear submarine program; a man named “Jack” who had to overcome the harsh criticism of his father despite being very popular with others; and a man named “Stevie” who almost had his dream of becoming a comedian on television dashed by a teacher who told him it was an unrealistic dream. At the end, Merrill revealed the three men to be Presidents Jimmy Carter and John F. Kennedy and popular television host and comedian Steve Harvey.
The stories resonated with the students, who said they were inspiring and motivating. The students were also excited that Merrill took the time to shake each of their hands on the way out of the assembly – and receive a few hugs as well.
“He taught me not to let anyone back you off of your dream,” said Jakayla Terry.
“I think that the assembly felt great! I really liked all that he said. I can’t wait to know how many feet I am so that I can compare myself to him,” said Jackson Beard referencing Merrill’s height of 6’4. “I love the story with Stevie.”