Thirty Vancouver high schoolers preparing for life after graduation got the rare opportunity to pick the brain of Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini in the Canucks dressing room last week as part of Aquilini’s ‘Lessons from the Locker Room’.
The exercise is part of an on-going speaking series with the Boys Club Network, a support group for at-risk youth, which the Aquilini family has been involved with for over 30 years.
While initially overwhelmed at being in the same dressing room as their Canucks heroes, the young men soon opened up, sharing their personal stories and goals for the future.
Most of the boys come from under-privileged backgrounds; one 14-year-old essentially raises his family himself, getting up at 5:30 everyday to prepare and walk his younger sisters to school before heading to class himself. He then does it all over again after school, before returning at night for his school’s theatre rehearsals.
Graduating from high school and entering post-secondary school was a common goal amongst the boys, but others had higher dreams, like making the Canadian National Water Polo team or playing a rock concert at Rogers Arena.
Francesco Aquilini grew up in the same tough East Vancouver neighbourhood as many of the boys, so he is the perfect role model, one who can relate to their struggles, according to Boy Club organizer Jim Crescenzo.
“These kids have a tremendous rapport with Francesco because they trust him and he trusts them because he can relate to where they come from,” said Crescenzo, a drama teacher at Templeton High School.
Aquilini candidly told the young men his story of growing up and running with the wrong crowd before he came to realize he was capable of much more.
He insisted, “hanging around the right people is essential,” and reminded the students that “the only person who can tell you ‘you can’t do something, is you’.”
Having the discussion in the same locker room the Canucks prepare for their games in was not just a behind-the-scenes glimpse for the kids, it was meant to inspire.
“Look at the motto above you,” Aquilini said pointing to the inspirational words painted above the Canucks lockers. “Preparation + Work Ethic +Teamwork = Success. That’s what we at the Canucks believe in and it’s no different in the real world.”
The hour-long session ended with every young man personally thanking Aquilini for his time, shaking his hand, with Aquilini telling everybody, “I want you to make me proud.”