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Alan Page Helps Students Celebrate 'A Lot More Than a Name Change'

Legendary Viking Alan Page visited the Justice Page Middle School and gave a speech to the children at the school which was named in honor of him.

MINNEAPOLIS –Alan Page on Friday proudly wore a T-shirt that he says is just as special – if not more so – than the gold Pro Football Hall of Fame jacket that hangs in his closet.

The royal blue shirt, paired fashionably with a blazer and Page's trademark bowtie, was imprinted with "Justice Page Middle School" and a rhino, the school's mascot. Page was on-hand to help the students kick off the 2017 school year and first year **under the school’s new name**.

"Education has been something that I've focused on for a long time. My own, but more importantly, I was fortunate enough to recognize early on that education's a tool that anybody can use to make their lives better," said Page, who's been an educational advocate for nearly 60 years. "I have been recognized as a professional football player, as a Minnesota Viking, and wonderfully so. I've been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and wonderfully so.

"But there is something unique about having a community believe in what you stand for – and at such a level that they are willing to put your name on something that's important to them," Page continued. "As I've said before, this is a singular honor."

Students of the Minneapolis school, formerly Alexander Ramsey Middle School, took the initiative to have its name changed to honor Page, not only a Hall of Famer but a retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice.

Erin Rathke, entering her second year as the school's principal, said the groundwork for renaming the school was pioneered entirely by the students. While the suggestion for change is now a few years old, the campaign gained significant momentum during the 2016-17 school year.

"[Our students] did a lot of exploring about who were their world-changers, who were their heroes, who represented who they wanted to be," Rathke said. "We had many names that came up and a process that happened, but certainly when Justice Page's name came up, there definitely was a fire that was lit with our community and with our students and staff."

In June, with the unanimous support of the school board and Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff, Justice Page Middle School was officially established.

Lillian Richmond and Taite Miller, seventh and eighth graders, respectively, shared their experience with the research and campaign process and reactions to having Page present for the school year kickoff assembly.

"It was really cool because it was led by the students," Lillian said. "We had lunch meetings every Monday. We also had a talk with the Superintendent and had many fundraisers. We tried to make sure it all ran smoothly.

"He's done so many cool things for the community, and we wanted a more positive role model to look up to," Lillian added. "And he's just the guy."

Taite called Page "a good example" through his extensive work with youth and education.

"I completely support him," Taite said. "He's one of my idols, so it's really amazing that he's here."

Energy echoed through the auditorium as students flooded in for the year's first full assembly Friday morning. All of the faculty, staff and students wore blue T-shirts that matched Page's and were donated by Minnesota Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren. Many of the youth wore "bow ties" fashioned out of colorful construction paper and clipped to their tees.

"It really has been unbelievable," Warren said. "I absolutely love Judge Page and [his wife] Diane and what they've accomplished, what they've given back to the community. It's been incredible to see the kids responding to it, and these are just fitting honors for an honorable person who's lived his life in a manner to really give back and reach back. It's been a really special day, so I'm glad that I could attend and I'm glad that the Vikings are able to have a little piece of this great event."

"We're just honored to have had Judge Page play with us for many years and be a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame and our [Vikings] Ring of Honor," Warren continued. "We'll always be there. We just can never repay the debt and the gratitude that we have for him and his family. It's just been an unbelievable experience."

Many schools through the years and across the country have been named for historical figures, but Principal Rathke said that having a "living hero" in Page as a namesake has been "more than could have been dreamt" for Justice Page youth.

"The first day that the kids met him, on the last day of school last year, kids were saying, 'I want to go to college now because I met him,' " Rathke said. "Because he's got an amazing spirit – he's so gentle but so accomplished, so humble."

Page was treated to a special ceremony that included a speech from Principal Rathke, a video about Page's accomplishments both on and off the football field, and even a surprise testimony from a former Page Scholarship recipient. The messages to Page, who sat near the podium, were heartfelt and moving, and he received standing ovations on three different occasions.

His highlights as a Viking were met with cheers, but an even louder response from the young people erupted when the video identified Page as the first African-American to serve as an Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1992.

A man known for his intensity and dominance on the football field became noticeably emotional when he took the podium to address the students. After taking a brief moment to compose himself, Page offered a large smile to the crowd.

"Welcome to Justice Page Middle School," Page said. "I must say, I like the way that sounds."

Page added: "I've got my Rhino T-shirt on, and this will not be the last time I wear it. I'm excited to be a Rhino."

He offered the students encouragement as they started the school year and reminded them that it's important and very possible to initiate change where it's needed.

Following the assembly, Page told that the morning had been "overwhelmingly emotional" and more than he had expected.

"First of all, you're sitting there and it's sort of all sinking in because here you are in the physical school, and they're talking about the school using your name," Page said. "And then everybody gets up and says all sorts of nice things, wonderful things about you. It makes you sort of realize and takes you back to what you've done over the years that brought you to this moment. And it reinforces in a big way that what you did, what you hoped for, was worth the effort.

"Putting into words how you feel about that is really difficult," Page added. "Words are really inadequate. They're the only thing we have, but they really are inadequate to give a full meaning of the feeling that I have."

One unexpected feature of the morning was a performance of the school's new spirit song, which was performed by the school's young band members. Page has played during or been recognized by the Vikings fight song probably hundreds of times, but he said this was the first song that's ever had his name in it.

"It was great – that was the first time I've heard it," said Page, who joined in with singing. "I'm going to have to learn it."

Page's closing remarks to the student body fully captured his character and values that he stands for.

He urged the young people to face the challenges of middle school with courage and to understand education as an investment in their future.

"You see, you've done a lot more than change the name of a school," Page said. "In the process, you learned and you grew as human beings.

"One of the things I love about the new name is you didn't name it Alan Page Middle School. You named it *Justice *Page Middle School," Page added. "And ultimately, that's what this is all about."

Upon his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988, Page and his wife, Diane, established the Page Education Foundation, which offers money and encouragement to students of color facing incredible barriers to attaining their educational dreams.

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