First in a series of profiles of graduating high school seniors:
In a building filled with light and student-friendly spaces, there is one room at Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory High School that is Emmanuel Cobb's favorite: the music room.
For Cobb, 18, who soon will be among Christ the King's (CTK) first graduating class, the music room symbolizes a bit of what plans to do with the education he receives at the college of his choice.
"One of the things I want to do for the school is to create a studio," he said during a recent tour. "See," he said, pointing to a corner, "this would be the perfect place." He plans to major in communications at Ball State University and become an audio engineer.
Until then, the self-described "game head and huge fan of Mad12" is focusing on weightier matters, such as training for his third season as a left-fielder with the CTK Gladiators baseball team and deciding, as a member of the Class Council, whether the seniors should have an "after prom" event or not.
Senior year is a heady time. And for Cobb it has come with more than a little attention. Last September, he was interviewed by radio talk show host Tavis Smiley as a shining example of what an education financed in part by a unique corporate work-study model can accomplish. In January, as a CTK Ambassador, he met then-candidate Rahm Emanuel. And since March he's been weighing college admission offers - eight in fact.
But Cobb isn't likely to let the attention go to his head. He is grounded by his upbringing and a maturity his mother, Denise, attributes to his experience at CTK.
"Actually, it has matured him. He chose the school," she said. "His mind-frame is that of an adult now. He asks me business questions; his working for [Hoogendoorn & Talbot, the downtown law firm where he works to earn 75 percent of his tuition] and seeing how people work on projects [has] made him a little more focused on his own projects."
Each CTK student is required to work five days a month - Wednesdays are work days; the money they earn goes toward off-setting the estimated $12,000 annual tuition. Cobb has worked at Hoogendoorn & Talbot since his sophomore year. He is a "runner" - filing documents at court, dropping off copies. Also, he serves as a stock manager, ordering food, stocking supplies and answering phones when the receptionist is away. "But my main job is being a runner," he explained. "I'm outside a lot; I'm at the Daley Center three hours every day I go."
Employers are called sponsors, Cobb's mother explained, and the program gives students real corporate work experience. "They treat them like adults, not children. They have expectations, they grade them, they even go to lunch - they do things," she said.
"The job has helped me become more mature, more independent," Cobb said, adding that the work has helped him with "organization, independence and getting work done - time management."
Although he treasures the work experience for helping him become more independent and a better time manager, it is the sense of family that makes CTK special to Cobb. "At my old [grammar] school, Knowledge is Power, everyone was for themselves," he explained. "Here, we work together; for me, academically and religiously, I feel they're family with me."
Contributing to the sense of family is how the school nurtures his desire to help others. "I'm smart, caring, love interacting with people and I like helping others," he said. The annual Family Service Day, for instance, allows him to give back to the community and earn service points. Through community service, he has participated in neighborhood clean-ups and serving meals to homeless persons.
Helping strengthen his moral compass is one of Cobb's favorite classes - Catholic Social Teaching. In it, he says, he is able to "get closer to my peers. We have talks about moral issues and we connect with them. We keep up with current events and social issues on a daily basis and see how it affects us and society." His mother has noticed the difference. "He wanted to learn more about God," she said about his choice to attend Christ the King, and he is accomplishing that. "His beliefs, his morals, are stronger."
In his freshman year, Cobb was picked to be one of six CTK students featured on banners outside the school. It is not hard to see why he was chosen: Cobb is gregarious, open, knows just about everyone on campus, and has a smile that radiates friendliness and warmth.
For both the son and the mother, the experience at Christ the King has been nothing short of empowering. The younger Cobb has clear-cut goals as a result of attending the school: "First, to go to college and finish college; second to become a CEO in what I'm majoring in by age 35; and third, to live a long time and have a good life."
From his mother's perspective as a single parent, "the role models there, the male teachers - I feel like there was something [Emmanuel] got from them that helped me," she said. "I went in there trusting that it would be good. When he first came to me about that school, I said 'a Jesuit school? I can't afford that.' Pretty much he said, 'Ma, I think this is going to be good.' I'm crazy about the school - it was sent to us."