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Be an encourager, Kinzinger tells students

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Washington, June 1, 2015 | comments
Congressman Adam Kinzinger's surprise visit to GCMS Middle School.
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GIBSON CITY – As part of a “friendly-letter” unit, GCMS sixth graders recently wrote to Congressman Adam Kinzinger, and his reply wasn’t what they expected.

Instead of writing, Kinzinger visited the school last week, to talk about what it’s like to represent the 16th Congressional District and to encourage students to pursue their dreams.

GCMS Middle School teacher Jenny Allen said the teachers and students alike were surprised when they heard Kinzinger would visit.

“When it was announced to the kids, they were pretty shocked,” Allen said. “We know how busy politicians can get, and we told the students this because we didn't want them to be disappointed and get their hopes up.”

But visit he did, and it turned out that the congressman had more in common with the students than they expected.

“When you are in junior high, you are in a very tough part of your life,” Kinzinger told the sixth, seventh and eighth graders who gathered in the gym for his talk. “The most difficult time in my life was my time in junior high.”

One of the things that made junior high difficult, said Kinzinger, was bullying. Kinzinger said he still remembers things that were said to him and in addition, admitted to not always being nice to others.

When he was running for Congress, Kinzinger said he was contacted by a former classmate, who was “holding on” to the unkind things Kinzinger and other classmates had said to him. Kinzinger encouraged students to learn from his experience.

“Everything you say and everything you do will have an effect way off in your life,” Kinzinger told the students. “You really want to be the person that encourages people.”

Encouragement has been important to Kinzinger in his career.

“I was at Illinois State University and 20 years old, when somebody jokingly said I should run for county board,” Kinzinger told the middle school students. His parents encouraged him, and Kinzinger ran and won.

When he finished college, Kinzinger wanted to fly planes in the military. “Everybody told me I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t smart enough, and I didn’t go to the right school.” Kinzinger accepted that until 9/11.

“The idea this attack could happen here totally changed my life. I realized I had a mission,” said Kinzinger, who is a pilot in the Air National Guard and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While he was on active duty, he decided to run for Congress.

“That’s the biggest one where people said I couldn’t do it,” he said.

Kinzinger told the students it was the encouragers that changed his life. “There are a lot of things I could do that sometimes I thought I couldn’t do,” he said.

Kinzinger took his own advice to say something kind and be an encourager during the question and answer session.

When asked about President Obama, Kinzinger admitted they disagree politically, but went on to compliment the president.

“He is a nice guy. He’s a great family man,” Kinzinger said. “And, what’s really neat about his story is he came from poverty, didn’t know his father and became the first African-American president."

Sixth graders had the opportunity to stay and ask Kinzinger additional questions. While their assignment focused on questions about his career, the students took the extra time to ask more personal questions.

They learned football is his favorite sport, he drives a Ford Fusion and thinks, “This is awesome,” when he is flying.

A few even asked if he has plans to run for president.

“Not now, but if you want to elect me president,” Kinzinger said as the students applauded loudly. “I love representing you in Congress,” he added when the applause died down.

It was the answers to the personal questions that made the visit special for her students, Allen said.

“The kids really enjoyed his visit,” she said. “They thought he was cool because he is in politics, but also because he has a cool car and is a Bears fan.”