Hip-hop artist Nas has produced No. 1 albums, performed in front of cheering crowds and had a doll made in his likeness in Japan.
But he never received his high school diploma, and yesterday he told an audience of high school students at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America's annual National Keystone Conference that his goal was to get his diploma and encourage others who never graduated to do the same.
"The reality of it is, you need to keep educating yourself, and I wish I had stayed in school," he said.
The performer, who flew into Pittsburgh early Sunday morning just to speak to the 900 students from around the country gathered at the Hilton Pittsburgh, Downtown, was speaking to the "cream of the crop," said Frank Sanchez, the vice president for corporate and partner relationships for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
The Keystone Club is a division within the Boys & Girls Clubs that promotes leadership with a focus on community service. There are about 1,400 Keystone Clubs, with 12,000 members, and 900 of them raised money to be able to attend the conference that took place here this weekend.
They may be the cream of the crop, but many of them also face significant challenges, and Nas' talk was about overcoming those challenges, Mr. Sanchez said.
"This is an incredible message, to have someone who succeeded so much in their life, but there is still a void," he said.
Nas was one of several others, including retired NBA player Bob Lanier and Grammy Award-winning pop and R&B artist Ne-Yo, who spoke to the high school students over the four-day conference.
The theme of the 43rd annual event was "Beyond All Limits," and North Catholic High School senior Brittany Morgan was one of the organizers who had been planning it since September.
On Saturday, about 500 of the conference participants teamed up with Pittsburgh Cares to perform service projects in the city, and the other 400 visited college campuses in the area or shadowed people at work. Sarah Heinz House on the North Shore hosted the large group Saturday night at their facility, with dancing and food.
On Sunday, the teenagers attended workshops on issues like withstanding peer pressure and avoiding stereotyping. Throughout the conference, they have been collecting money for a Haiti relief fund.
Ms. Morgan, who has attended eight conferences, national and regional, since she joined the Sarah Heinz House's Keystone Club as a freshman, said she leaves the conferences with new friendships and ideas about projects to do in her own club, which already performs a service activity each month.
As for how the teens could get to where they wanted to go in life, Nas had a lot of advice, including, "Be your own leader."
Kaitlynn Riely: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1707.