New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins gives some words of wisdom to Marshall’s graduates


By John DeShazier, The Times-PicayuneThe easy way out is to fawn over an athlete because of what he does on the field, court or diamond, not really having much of an idea what kind of person they are or what they’re made of.And then comes along Monday.Yesterday, New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins gave New Orleans — and, specifically, the 2011 graduating class of Thurgood Marshall Early College High School — a reason to admire him other than for his ability to cause a game-saving or make a game-changing interception.Jenkins, all of 23 years old, provided the commencement address for Marshall at Lakefront Arena, a speech spliced with humor, heavy on advice, colored by age-appropriate slang, punctuated by references to the class motto and song.It was the third major interaction he has had with the school, following his holding an essay contest for his “Solutions, Not Shootings” organization (the actual name was taken from the essay) and his donation to the school’s band, which allowed it to buy instruments and other equipment.The guess here is that the third time was the best, by far.“One of the things we do when someone of his caliber comes over is we try to talk to them and get a feel for them. I couldn’t get his jersey out of him,” joked Marshall Principal Dr. Michael Booker.“We had an impromptu conversation, and he told me that after his football career is over he’s interested in sportscasting. I noticed as he was being interviewed by one of the television persons that he was very articulate, the kids were really happy to see him and know that he was a Saints football player. So we just thought of him immediately as a person we would want to come and speak at our commencement exercises.“He’s someone they can aspire to be like. For someone to achieve the level of success he has and still be grounded is an important thing that the kids need to see.”He’ll get no argument here.A university or college accepted 84 of Marshall’s 103 seniors — 81 percent of the class. Obviously, the understanding is there that they won’t be the next Jenkins.Part of Jenkins’ job Monday was to stress that no one has to be the “next” him or the “next” anyone else to be successful.“Six years ago I was in their seat, and I’m only two years out of college,” he said. “They can relate to me more. I’m not too much older than them. I hope they did listen to the message, and I hope it was received well.”Ditto, because the guy who makes his living in part by trying to knock opponents’ heads off showed he has a pretty good one on his shoulders.Trust that there are far worse commencement speakers to be chained to than Jenkins, who sounded like a veteran throughout his debut.“I actually was nervous,” he said. “I’ve never done anything like that. It was definitely new, but once you get into it, it’s kind of like a game. Once you make the first hit, you’re all right.“This is a big deal; this was a graduation speech. I asked my mom if I should do it because I was nervous, and she was like, ‘Yes, it’s a good opportunity.’ ”The oddity is that it’s an opportunity he might not have had if he wasn’t locked out.If Jenkins and his teammates were working out under the supervision of Saints coaches, rather than banned from the facility while NFL owners and players challenge and defend in court, he might not have had time to address the seniors.“You never know what our schedule would have been like,” Jenkins said. “But definitely, with the lockout it’s something I’m able to do. It’s one of the opportunities that you get, seeing as how we’re not working right now.”Actually, he was working Monday afternoon at Lakefront Arena.Doing a job that, in the future, could prove just as influential and satisfying as anything he ever has done, or will do, on the field as a Saint.