This time last week, Jameel Rush was still rewriting. Temple administrators had asked if he'd salt his graduation speech with a few autobiographical details. He struggled with their request.
Sometime's it's hard to recognize that you, yourself, are the story. But what a story.
I couldn't help but imagine my own version of Rush's speech, which he is to deliver today:
Dear fellow graduates:
Since I was 13 I've lived four doors down from Temple University, but that was a greater distance than it looks.
Home was the Norris homes. It's mom, dad, sister, brother and me. I'm the first of the lot to graduate from college.
My mom's here today. It's her 50th birthday. She's a social worker. That's her crying with my dad. He's a cook at Dave & Buster's. I'm hoping some more relatives have been able to get the time off to make the short trip. Two aunts work in Temple's financial aid office. Two more are secretaries. An uncle works in maintenance. I ordered 30 tickets.
In my family we're not afraid of work. I've held down two part-time jobs in addition to carrying a full load at Temple. I'm graduating with a 3.33 average, a degree in human resources, and a job at Aramark in the wings.
Before I go, though, a little suggestion for the next orientation. Stop telling students taking the Regional Rail not to use the stairs on the Norris Street side because that's "the bad side."
That's my side. It's not so bad.
Dad - Clarence Rush, 57, opens the front door and calls quietly for Jameel. The house is small and clean. Fish in the living room tank. Toys in a box for sister Anisha's son, Amir.
We're just starting to discuss the view - they live across from a university parking lot, and that's a vast improvement over the trash-collecting field that used to be there - when younger brother Maurice, a Temple freshman, knocks on the door.
Jameel searches his brother's face through the window.
"He doesn't look happy. Looks like a bad final in accounting."
Maurice walks in, marching his portfolio straight to his father.
He's earned a 97, points off for some stylistic flubs in the table of contents. "I got lazy," Maurice teases.
Clarence, a Vietnam vet, tells how he fought for his sons to go to college. "We had recruiters coming around here, knocking on the door, and I said, 'No, no no!' I already spend my life worrying about my sons. I can't go to sleep at night till they're in the door. I ask them if they've eaten, if they're all right. I worry every night. I don't know if they know that. And they're good kids."
Jameel listens, eyes on his father. He waits for the man to finish before continuing with his own story.
It was Miss Ross from Wanamaker Middle School who gave him the first push. He wrote a paper for her - he can't remember the subject - and she threw it back for revision. "I went home complaining to my mom, 'My paper is as good as anybody else's.' " His mother made him rewrite it.
Miss Ross encouraged him to apply to Central High School, one of the city's top academic magnets. There, he says, he got used to not being one of the smartest in his class.
At Temple, too. But few were going to outwork him. He bused dishes at a catering hall, worked at a car wash, interned for the city Personnel Department while running the college's human resources organization and presiding over the Greater Exodus Baptist Church youth choir.
Since November, he's known he'd be working for Aramark's human resources department, starting at a higher salary than either parent makes.
He hopes to save enough to buy a house - keep his folks from having to pay any more rent.
David Zitarelli, a math professor at Temple, said his committee selected Rush to speak because of the way he extolled hard work when celebrating Temple founder Russell Conwell's ideal of educating the community, of finding the diamonds in the rough.
Jameel Rush being a shining example.