Celtics' Grant Williams visits Catholic school for Read Across America Day

DORCHESTER -- The fifth-grade students at St. John Paul II Catholic Academy, Lower Mills Campus, knew they were going to have a special guest on March 2, but it was not until he arrived that they realized who it was: Boston Celtics player Grant Williams.

The visit took place on Read Across America Day, part of a nationwide program that promotes reading to children. Williams visited with the school's fifth graders, as well as the eighth-grade basketball team, in the school's media center.

Because it was the beginning of Women's History Month, he read books with the students by diverse women authors and talked about women who have inspired him throughout his journey -- particularly his mother, who is an electrical engineer for NASA.

"Grant's passion for young female leaders was the focus of it," Principal Lisa Warshafsky said, speaking with The Pilot after the visit.

Williams also told the students about his life and answered their questions. Warshafsky said he was "very genuine." When the books they read spoke of adversity, he gave specific examples from his own life and talked about his strategies for dealing with disappointment.

"I appreciated his own vulnerability to share that," Warshafsky said.

Esiah, a fifth-grade student, said she thought Williams' visit was "empowering."

"He talked about how he grew up, and what brought him to where he's at now. It was powerful because it made me believe in myself and what I want to be," she said.

Williams told the students about how he was accepted to several Ivy League schools, but instead chose to attend the University of Tennessee. This upset his mother, but he had a plan to graduate in three years, and then try out for the NBA. He told his mother that if he did not get into the NBA, he would pursue his master's degree.

"But it turns out that the NBA was a good fit for him, so he made it, and his mom was really proud of him for that," Esiah said, recounting the story.

Esiah wants to be a nurse, and like Williams, she said, there are people who doubt her. She spoke about how Williams did not let doubt "get to his head," and so went on to fulfill his dream of playing in the NBA.

"I thought what he was saying was really powerful, because I want to be something, too," she said.

One of the books Williams read to the students was "What the Road Said" by Cleo Wade.

One student, Ishmael, saw a parallel between the book's theme and their Catholic faith. He suggested that the road was like God, Warshafsky explained, because "even when we least expect or don't know what is yet to come, through prayer and our belief we always know the way, because we follow Jesus."

Warshafsky said that some students were "in tears because they were so moved by the experience."

"I'm very grateful for the opportunity, and appreciate the Celtics organization for carving time out for this opportunity," Warshafsky said.