Jake Schmidt was a self-described nerd when he graduated from St. Patrick Catholic School in St. Charles to Marmion Academy in Aurora.
But in the weeks leading up to his high school commencement Thursday, the 18-year-old Campton Hills resident said he now sees the importance of education outside the classroom, and he has become a more well-rounded person.
The Kane County Chronicle this week is highlighting local high school graduating seniors.
Community service helped increase Schmidt's awareness of surrounding communities and cultures, he said, noting the activities helped get him out of his comfort zone.
His volunteerism – for such programs as Special Olympics and at such places as Hope D. Wall School in Aurora – did not go unnoticed.
He received a Ted Brattin Civic Youth award, an honor given to Fox Valley youths who have exhibited qualities of citizenship, service and leadership as demonstrated through school, church or community activities.
Anthony Tinerella, Marmion's head of school and principal, nominated Schmidt for the award. In an email, he described Schmidt as an inspiration to the Marmion community and said the teen exemplifies the characteristics and values of humility, perseverance, loyalty, integrity, honor and selflessness.
Schmidt's parents, Kevin and Peggy, said their son has a lot of integrity, truly enjoys volunteering and does it with a positive attitude.
"Jake's got a heart for service," his father said.
Modest, Schmidt said the credit belongs elsewhere.
"I view the award as awarding my school and community as a whole because it gave me opportunities to get involved in service," Schmidt said.
Programs at Marmion connected Schmidt to service projects, including food drives, he said, but the Peacebuilders Initiative – a summer program of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago – propelled his commitment to volunteerism even more.
Peacebuilders encouraged students to do a project in their own communities, which is where Schmidt's involvement with Hope Wall came from, he said.
Marmion and Hope Wall – a school serving severely handicapped students from ages 3 to 21 – have been developing a relationship for the past two years, Schmidt said.
"We're trying to build it up," he said, later adding that helping kids with disabilities is a passion of his.
"If I were to be in their shoes," he said, "I'd like to see other people cared about me."
Chris Sanzeri, a Hope Wall teacher who was contacted by Schmidt last year, said in an email that the teen wanted to create a lasting partnership between the two schools, and they decided to use Special Olympics and athletics as a good place to start.
At Hope Wall, Schmidt took the lead in creating and organizing a Motor Activities Training Day, a developmental sports program designed for students who can't participate in regular Special Olympics activities, Sanzeri said.
"It was a pleasure to work with a young man with such a deep passion to help people with disabilities," Sanzeri said. "Staff members at Hope Wall had nothing but praise and compliments for Jake and all of the other volunteers from Marmion Academy."
Schmidt plans to continue his education at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, a decision he made during spring break.
He doesn't yet know what he wants to pursue, he said, but his interests include engineering, physical therapy and a childhood dream of owning and managing a big resort – an idea that stemmed from his love of vacations.
Whatever Schmidt pursues, his Catholic faith and the relationships with his friends and family likely will remain important facets of his life.
And he likely won't seek – or expect – accolades for any volunteer opportunities he pursues.
"It's nice to see other people value the hard work I put into it," he said, "but it's not why I do service."
The Kane County Chronicle continues its annual series this week profiling graduating seniors from local high schools. This year, we also will provide an update on graduates we previously featured.