Effort, Education, Excellence: These “Three E’s of a Champion” are just one of the many messages Keith Davis
and Clarence Lee
brought to fifth- and sixth-graders during an inspiring and spirited program that focused on boosting self-esteem, empowering students to achieve academic success and encouraging them to make visionary choices.
Davis, a graduate of University of Southern California (USC) and former NFL player (New York Giants) learned many lessons about winning and losing over the course of his life. “Winners are different than losers,” he said, “because winners look at what they are going to, while losers look at what they are going through.”
He shared some of his own personal trials and triumphs both on the football field and in the classroom to bring students an empowering message. “Long ago, I decided it’s more important to be a world-class person than a world-class athlete,” he said.
Throughout school, Davis struggled academically. He described himself as a short, chubby boy who was regularly teased. He moved around a lot as a child and, as a result, did not learn to read well. He was perpetually tauntedin the classroom. It wasn’t until he went to USC on a football scholarship that he focused on putting his education first. He graduated as an Academic All-American with the top GPA on his team, which earned him the Howard Jones Award. Following graduation, he received an NFL contract with the New York Giants.
Davis’s mantra has always been PUSH: Persevere Until Success Happens, and that’s what he likes to encourage in today’s youth. “You don’t have to be great to get started down the right path,” he said. “You just have to get started to be great. I didn’t have the skill, but I had the will when I was at USC, and I worked hard in my classes.”
Lee’s story centered on the championship ring he won at Florida State University (FSU). “This ring represents hard work,” he said. “I’d never played football in high school. I was a 95 pound kid in high school who was bullied every day.” He shared that his dad died and his brothers were either using drugs or selling them. His mom was depressed.
He was angry at the bullies and thought he would get his revenge, so he started doing pushups everyday to get stronger. Lee soon learned, through a friend, that his best revenge was to forgive his bullies so they had no power over his life. But he didn’t stop doing pushups.
That same friend later helped him gain access to a workout room at Florida State. He was ultimately discovered and put on the football team. During his time as a lineman for the Seminoles, he was the strongest player in the history of the university, bench pressing 650 pounds. He was also a scholar student pursuing a double major in Math Education and Pure Mathematics. One of his coaches, the legendary Bobby Bowden, considered Lee one of his favorite athletes because he saw Lee as a role model and example of moral character.
“I got on the team because I started doing those pushups and got stronger,” Lee said. “Push those obstacles in your way. You can have more if you never settle for less.”
To show off Lee’s strength, Davis called for student volunteers to come forward and represent dreams. He had students represent a small dream, an average dream, a big dream and finally a Middle School teacher represented a bigger dream. Lee then did pushups with each individual standing on his back to show that the bigger dream is attainable.
At the end of the program, Jeremy Henderson ’23 was the lucky student called forward to don a football jersey and the three championships rings that are worn by Davis and Lee.
Davis and Lee are part of the Just Say Yes: Youth Equipped to Succeed program. The program is a nonprofit organization that strives to empower students to say yes to their dreams and goals and no to destructive choices.