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East alum Jeremy Scahill's questioning mind inspires students

April 9, 2014

Inviting Jeremy Scahill, independent journalist and Wauwatosa East High School alumni, to speak at the Wauwatosa Public Library Foundation's Spring Leadership Luncheon on Monday also invited a few surprises.

Scahill swore a few times during his speech, poked fun at TMJ4 anchor, former classmate and longtime friend Vince Vitrano, and admitted to not being a very good student. Scahill didn't graduate from college, he said, and wasn't that interested in what was going on in the classroom. Vitrano added that Scahill would frequently change the subject in his father's Latin class.

But no matter what formal accolades Scahill did or did not earn in high school or college, he made one thing clear to six award recipients: educational institutions don't create leaders; passion does.

"Real change in our society, regardless of what profession people are in, is going to come from people who have a passion burning so strongly in their heart that they don't even identify it as work that they're doing; they identify it as a way of life," Scahill said to 300 luncheon attendees at the Crown Plaza hotel.

The 12th annual fundraising luncheon saw five Wauwatosa high school juniors and one outstanding resident receive the Arthur B. Kohasky Leadership Award, given to recognize leadership in its various forms.

Counselors selected high school recipients Annika Martensson, Divine Savior Holy Angels; Charles Elliott, Marquette University High School; Mary Nink, Pius XI; Lidarose Young, Wauwatosa East; and Theresa Canfield, Wauwatosa West.

The Library Foundation Board selected Caroline Krider, senior vice president of National Corporate and Institutional Banking for U.S. Bank, to be awarded for her volunteer work with the Zoological Society of Milwaukee, Wisconsin Humane Society, U.S. Women's Open and other organizations.

Krider said she felt compelled to fight for animal welfare when a dinner guest once asked her what her passion was — and what she was doing about it. During her speech, Krider encouraged young people to use the talents they have been given to make the world better.

Scahill gladly accepted the invitation to speak at the luncheon, recalling his family's lifelong love for the Wauwatosa Public Library. He also is the first speaker to donate his speaking fee back to the Library Foundation Board, said Sharon deGuzman, a board director.

Scahill is a national security correspondent for Nation magazine and author of New York Times bestsellers "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army" and "Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield." He is the subject, producer and writer of the film, "Dirty Wars," which was nominated for a 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

During his speech, Scahill lauded librarians for their commitment to protect the public's privacy. When the Patriot Act was proposed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the government wanted to be able to know what people were reading without a search warrant.

"Librarians became freedom fighters by refusing those records," Scahill said.

Student award recipients said they felt inspired by Scahill's passion and desire to question the policy of institutions.

Young said she felt inspired to help people through her work as editor of the Cardinal News newspaper at East. Canfield said Scahill's point to think globally helped her rethink her community involvement. Elliott said he was charged to follow his passion and be consistent about it as a tutor.

"I was so inspired that someone would always question our policies because I think that is so important to leadership," Nink said.

Martensson added, "I can take back making a difference every day (to DSHA)."

In closing his speech, Scahill said, "It doesn't matter what kind of business you want to get into. You have to be about the business of improving the lives of others. At the end of the day, our society will benefit tremendously from it."

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