With all the talk of school violence, lockdown drills and other topics that scare kids, Kennedy Junior High language arts teacher Charlotte Bunce says she thought her students needed to meet a real hero.
Enter Maj. Guillermo Rosales, one of the most decorated Marines in history, who just happens to be an associate of Bunce's brother. Bunce said the Marine's story, along with multiple deployments to Iraq's "Triangle of Death" and Niger, Africa, made him more than qualified.
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"He's like a Batman or Captain America of our own, not in a comic strip somewhere," Bunce said. "So when I learned of the connection, I asked him to come to school and talk to our students about making good choices and just being a hero."
Bunce likely got more than she bargained for as the 43-year-old Rosales immediately challenged a group of students at the Lisle school to push-up and pullup competitions.
Rosales eventually relented, but that's not something he's used to doing, he told students Friday.
He said he was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and moved to Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood as a young boy.
"I'm very lucky to be speaking to you today but I'm here because of a series of choices I made in my life," he said. "I grew up where it was cool to want to be like the gangbangers with their money and their cars. But I learned pretty quickly that those influences would take me to a dead end."
Growing up, Rosales said, he learned English by watching World War II documentaries and dreamed of flying with the Blue Angels.
He hasn't flown with the Blue Angels yet, but he has fulfilled another dream of becoming a U.S. citizen and serving his country. As he got older, he said, it became increasingly more important for him to fight for the freedoms his family has enjoyed.
"If I've left you with anything today, let it be these few things: Set goals and work toward them. You have choices so make smart ones," he said. "And make a difference."
No students had questions for Rosales after his 50-minute presentation, but several said they were taking it to heart.
"I've looked back on mistakes that I have made," said Bella Allen, 12, of Naperville. "And I think this will encourage me to think about smarter choices I need to make in the future as I, too, become someone who is important."