Message to students: ‘There’s greatness in you’

Submitted Photo Sylvester Cleary drops some sick beats in order to motivate and inspire Forestville Central School District students.

Imagine the stream of positive messages plastered on posters in school hallways, or maybe by that motivational Tumblr page or in your Instagram feed by the “fitspiration” photoblog you follow. Now imagine those same positive, inspirational messages but in song form — by a role model. One of your mentors, perhaps?

Mentors can be one of the most influential people in a child’s life — and Forestville Central School District Board of Education member Sylvester Cleary takes his role as educator, leader, positive influence and now musical artist very, very seriously. Others do, too — that’s why middle/high school principal Dan Grande asked Cleary to sit down with students at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year to try to get them motivated — and that’s where the eventual idea for his music video, “Nothing Less,” got its start.

“I spoke with the entire student body, and I got them chanting ‘nothing less than my best’ over and over again. I was trying to rev them up,” said Cleary. “It took me a while to get them going, but once I got them going they didn’t want to stop. That chant just sort of caught on with them, and so throughout the year, they kept using that.”

The message spread like wildfire. Students were putting it on t-shirts, and it even made its way onto the Forestville yearbook cover. Seeing how important the saying became to his students, Cleary decided he needed to take it a bit further — to make it reach more students, and to make a lasting impression.

“Nothing Less” was born — a catchy music video featuring Cleary himself, singing a song he wrote about the greatness that every student has inside of them, so easily within reach if they just look inside themselves and find it.

“What I’m trying to get across to the students is that there is greatness in each and every student, and the video is produced to let them know they must identify the greatness and work toward developing the greatness, and inside of them, there is greatness they’ve got to find. That is the basic message,” Cleary explained.

The students are already starting to find their greatness, and Cleary says it shows. Recently, he was doing exit interviews with seniors and, compared to past years, students are noticeably more prepared for their futures, from having college plans to jobs lined up after graduation. In previous years students were more likely to be unsure of what their future would hold, but this year the kids were much more ready.

“There was a noticeable difference in the direction that (the students) were going in, and I think (“Nothing Less“) had a lot to do with it,” said Cleary. “Some of the kids that I’ve talked to, they were telling me that they knew that they should be doing more, and (now) they try to do more, so they were definitely motivated. …One of the seniors … after I finished interviewing her, she said, ‘Can I hug you?’ and she thanked me for the song and thanked me for my input, but mainly what she thanked me for was my attitude … you have to show (students) that you’re not only involved but enthusiastic, and they get their enthusiasm from teachers and anyone who’s in education.”

Cleary is also teaching a class every Sunday at the Forestville Wesleyan Church for junior and high school students, called “Nothing Less Than Your Best.” He says it teaches students about “Universal Laws” that they don’t normally learn about in schools, such as the Universal Laws of Visualization and Affirmation.

These are laws that help students foresee positive things — if they can visualize them, they can believe them, and they can achieve them.

“I’m teaching them that every morning when they get up, they should have three or four affirmations that talk about the present time, like ‘I am wealthy,’ ‘I am wanted,’ ‘I am getting my work done,’ — whatever it is that goes with what they’re reaching for, for them to get up in the morning, spend a couple minutes when they’re brushing their teeth, look in the mirror and affirm what they’re doing, what they’re trying to reach for,” Cleary said.

The class also teaches what Cleary calls the “Basic Principles of Salesmanship” — meaning, a student should think of themselves as their own corporation, because corporations always have to sell themselves. This means students should always be positive and be pushing themselves to do better and realize that people are always watching them — so be aware of what you’re doing all the time, and be a good salesman, so you can be successful.

Cleary is also working on developing a one-hour lecture to present to other districts. In the New York City area, a school district has already seen Cleary’s video, and even replicated it, so he’s hoping to present to them first once he’s honed his skills.

“The reason why I started this class is because … I found out that my calling is inspiring kids, and so what I’m doing with this class is, I’m sharpening my skills, because I want to put together an hour-long presentation, and then I want to go around to different schools and present … specifically to inspire and motivate students,” Cleary said.

“I think in school, grades K through 12, I think we have a gap in education, and one of the gaps is just what I’m trying to fill, and that is going around and letting students know there’s greatness in them and that there are other things going on that they’re not taught in school like the universal laws … that will help them to achieve their goals,” Cleary explained. “The way I look at it is, someone should fill those gaps, and it looks like that someone is me.”

The video can be viewed on Cleary’s YouTube channel at