2016 Keynote Speaker

GCAC Hall of Fame  

2016 Keynote Speaker

Justice Anne Burke


Girls Catholic Athletic Conference Hall of Fame Dinner Keynote Address March 20, 2016

Thank you Darlene for that kind introduction.  I am delighted to be here with you for "The Girls Catholic Athletic Conference Hall of Fame Dinner." I want to congratulate all of the inductees and coaches here tonight. Whether you realize it now or not - your lives have been shaped by your participation in athletics - I know my life was. 

Although I cannot claim to have been a star athlete, however, because of my participation in volleyball, basketball, ice skating, swimming, tap dancing, and even baton twirling, I developed skills that contributed to my foundation, and prepared me for my future.

I grew up on Chicago's southwest side during the early 50's. I attended a Catholic grammar school and will admit that I was not a very good student; perhaps a solid "C".  (Sister Margaret and Sister Elizabeth are here to affirm that.)  My focus was not on academics.  I was fidgety, disruptive, and some would say "scatterbrained". 

Surprisingly, I was never depressed about not being a good student. I just resolved myself to the fact that it was the way things were meant to be. Fortunately, my parents didn't push me to get A's something I never could have achieved. Instead, Mom and Dad encouraged me to do the things I loved and could do well - like sports and the arts. 

My academic struggles continued while I attended Maria High School. So I channeled my energy and used my talents to succeed in the things I loved to do.

Because of my agility (of course that was THEN and not NOW) and love of sports, I became a reasonably good athlete at Maria, because of Ms. Dorothy Morgan and Mrs. Durkin.  I also enjoyed working with children, so I worked as a camp counselor in the summers. In addition, I was interested in art, sewing, tap dance, and performing in school theater productions. My biggest passion, however, was twirling a baton with the St. Rita High School Marching Band! (An all-boy's High School) 

In my sophomore year at Maria, my friend and advisor, Sister Henrietta, asked me what I wanted to do with my life. She helped me to see my strengths and suggested that I might enjoy pursuing a degree in physical education.

Sister Henrietta also worked with me to improve my reading skills. With her help, I was able to gain admission - and a scholarship - to attend George Williams College, where I was accepted into the Physical Education program.

Coincidentally, it was while I attended George Williams College that I discovered the reason I had difficulty reading, and why I was always so fidgety, and only earned "C's" in school.

A professor at George Williams was conducting a research project to measure and compare one's ability to make basketball free-throws while under hypnosis. I volunteered. 

Besides recording the basketball free-throws, the other participants and I, once hypnotized, were also asked to write our names while envisioning ourselves at various ages in our lifetime. I wrote my name at age18, then at age 15, and so forth. Later, out of the trance of hypnosis, I saw that when I wrote my name at the age of 5, I wrote my name and numbers backwards.

Immediately, memories from my childhood came flooding back to me. I remembered that it had taken me forever to learn how to read (I always started to read from the left to the right), and that I always had to read everything 2 or 3 times to make sense of it. Also writing, for me, was like painting a picture. I remembered that I loved drawing my name in different ways. 

At the end of the research project, I was told that I had what was then termed a "perceptual handicap" - the disorder now known as "dyslexia".

Unfortunately, I spent only one year at George Williams College. I was forced to drop out because the college was moving to a far western suburb and I had no means of transportation to get there, as well as working part-time.

Luckily, however, when that door closed, a new and exciting one opened up - I began working fulltime for the Chicago Park District, teaching physical education at many Chicago Parks but mostly at West Pullman Park. There, I volunteered to take part in a completely new program - one unlike any other in the nation. 

It would provide children and young adults with mental and physical disabilities the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to compete in sports.

Of course, at that time - which was the mid 1960's - handicapped children were commonly referred to as "retarded". Yet, I never saw my students that way - perhaps because of my own learning disability.

While working with these special needs children, I saw the positive impact that competition created in their lives. They were no different from you or I. Sports competition gave them validation, encouragement, and a stronger self-image. With this realization, I suggested that our athletic competitions might be expanded city-wide. 

Remarkably, it was out of that simple observation and suggestion, that the Chicago Special Olympics was born in July 1968.

With the support of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, those first Chicago games were transformed into a national movement and, eventually, expanded globally to become today the International Special Olympics, reaching tens of millions in almost two hundred countries. 

My husband, Ed and I were also married in 1968 - the same summer as the first Chicago Special Olympics and, by 1973, we had three children. 

Despite the stress of having young children at home, with Ed's encouragement, I went back to school, attending DePaul University's school of New Learning.

In 1976, I earned a degree in Education and obtained my teaching certificate (which I still maintain today! - You never know what tomorrow may bring.) Also, we welcomed our fourth child.

Four years later, I decided to go to law school again, at Ed's urging. Although I had never been a good standardized test-taker, I took the LSAT and scored well enough to be accepted into several law schools. 

I enrolled at Chicago-Kent College of law and found, to my surprise, that I loved reading the cases. The law is about people and I discovered that I truly enjoyed the law. I visualized using my law degree to continue what I loved to do most - working for special children and adults through legal representation. 

Now that is not to say that law school was not challenging - To succeed, I needed to find ways to help myself. I hired a tutor, and since I am an auditory learner, I also joined with a few of my classmates, and we formed a study group. I found that talking about the material truly helped. 

Of course, my grades were still not spectacular, but that is because reading and getting thoughts from my brain onto paper was - and still is - difficult for me. 

I consider myself extremely fortunate because of the many opportunities and experiences I have had since graduating from law school.

Initially, I launched a small neighborhood law practice; became Special Counsel for Child Welfare to Governor Jim Edgar; later, a judge of the Illinois Court of Claims; an Appellate Court Justice, and then, a Supreme Court Justice 

In every way, the lessons I learned and the skills I developed through sports - skills such as perseverance, self-confidence, tenaciousness and self-worth - helped to shape the person I have become today. 

You may not necessarily have learning challenges, as I do, but we all have obstacles in our lives which can prevent us from advancing, if we allow them to get in the way of our dreams.

Your involvement and successes in athletics have given you an advantage. Through competition, you have already discovered the life skills needed to overcome obstacles - such as drive, discipline and determination.  

Sports have also given you another important discovery - the value of teamwork. It has been said that there is no "I" in Team. That is a wise observation.  Working together for a purpose knowing that you can not achieve your goal without your teammates. Gaining this understanding has served you well and will continue to serve you well in the future. 

That deep sense of needing each other and leaning on one another is also a powerful example of Christianity. The fact that you are working for something beyond yourself; working on behalf of the team, these are the same lessons taught in our Catholic Institutions. 

As Christians, it is our obligation, to apply the moral and ethical lessons we have learned to help others.  Helping and being an advocate for those less fortunate to find their own strengths and accomplish their goals. 

I know that the skills you have acquired through your participation in athletics, along with compassion, empathy and humility, will continue to guide you into your future.  

I pray for the continued success of The Girls Catholic Athletic Conference and thank you for creating the platform to assist young women become whole and effective Christians through their athletic experience.