OLD TOWN — Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined in the sweet celebration of Chicago's 176th birthday at the Chicago History Museum Monday which included a massive cheesecake from Eli's, but was reminded of the bitter violence of the past year during a student's essay reading.
The winner of this year's DuSable Essay Competition, 5th grader Caleb Smith, is a classmate of Hadiya Pendleton's brother, and said her senseless murder was inspiration for a portion of his essay.
"I was thinking about lots of different things that happened in Chicago — my classmate's sister," Smith said.
The young student reminded those packed into the museum for the birthday celebration that Chicagoans have more in common with each other than differences.
"We have a lot of fun things to do, but it would be better if the city was not so violent," he said.
Smith's essay received to a standing ovation.
Before the essay reading, the mayor gave a speech that focused on the success of Chicago's immigrants over the past 176 years and improvements in the Chicago Public Schools schedule, including full-time kindergarten.
"Chicago remains a city of firsts, and the first among equals when it focuses on its children," Emanuel said. "I am so proud that our children now have a full school day. I am also proud starting next year Chicago will have a full school day for every child in kindergarten throughout the city."
Emanuel rattled off the names of Nobel Prize winners who have lived in the city or completed their notable work in the city including Jane Adams and Enrico Fermi, and paid homage to the father of the skyscraper, Louis Sullivan.
"Diversity and discovery is part of our DNA and that goes all the way back to our city's birth," Emanuel said. "The first permanent resident of Chicago, Jean Baptiste DuSable, he was of African descent."
Edison Park resident Thomas LaRocca, 62, had hoped to snap a photo with the mayor, but he was unsuccessful.
"I've been coming to the party for over 32 years," he said. "Every year."