DANVILLE - A generation of "local boys who made good" - including the Van Dyke brothers and Gene Hackman - found their fame in the world of entertainment.

Now, a new generation of talent emerging from Danville includes Pete Mockaitis, Danville High School Class of 2002.

A full semester before his graduation from University of Illinois-Urbana this spring, the 22-year-old published his first book. He'll appear at the Danville Public Library for a book signing this week during his winter break.

The book signing will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the library's first-floor meeting room. "The Student Leader's Field Guide" will be available for purchase at $13.95.

The book provides leaders of student organizations with practical solutions to their most frustrating dilemmas. For a look at the chapters, visit the Web site http://www.optimalitypress.com

It's no surprise that Mockaitis leads the pack of his generation. His student leadership skills emerged during high school and reached their peak during his years at the U of I. His experiences as a student leader form the foundation for his book.

Named both homecoming king and best boy citizen his senior year at DHS, Mockatitis was also a valedictorian of his high school class. He's led many student groups at DHS and U of I, but he might be best remembered from his stint as a human sundae at a Danville Wings game his senior year.

That combination of intelligence and a sense of humor, especially about himself, helped Mockaitis survive the challenges every new author faces. He began writing his just-published book four years ago, the summer after his senior year in high school, and is glad it's available before his student days end.

Titled "The Student Leader's Field Guide," the book has already garnered praise from notables including National Education Association President Reg Weaver (a Danville native himself), U of I President B. Joseph White and actor Hugh O'Brian.

O'Brian founded the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) organization, which Mockaitis joined during high school and continued working with through college.

"I am proud of how (Pete) has taken up the HOBY challenge of 'aiming for the stars,'" O'Brian wrote. "Congratulations ... on a terrific book. I recommend it to young people everywhere."

Another former mentor who now considers Mockaitis her friend recommended the book to people of all ages.

Marilyn Holt met him when he was a high school junior and she worked as an administrator for the Illinois State Board of Education's regional office. Mockaitis served on the student advisory council and rose to become co-chairman.

"Pete came into a group of young student leaders and became their leader," she said. "I'd like all student leaders to learn some of his secrets. "

Now superintendent of schools for Olney's East Richland Community Unit District 1, Holt believes the book will impact students as young as middle school and through high school. But she believes its message is not just for the young.

"Adults who have children who lead or want to be leaders should read Pete's book. So should those involved in education, church, 4-H and other community organizations," she said. "Adults need to recognize the potential of young people. Pete's book serves as a reminder that students count."

Inspiration for the book came from one accomplishment among his many that Mockaitis remembers in particular.

"When I was young, I used to go to the library with my dad (the late John Mockaitis)," he said. "We also used to play chess together. I read a book about chess and learned some new strategies. After that, I beat him for the first time in 10 years.

"I made the connection that books could fit into the context of your life. Human beings are capable of a lot. When you have a game plan, when you understand a strategy, you can improve your performance."

Brent Jones graduated from DHS with Mockaitis and did the layout for "The Student Leader's Guide." The two met as high school freshmen, and Jones has heard his friend's leadership ideas and philosophy for years.

"Pete always took adult concepts and made them applicable to students," said Jones, a Southern Illinois University journalism major. "Leadership skills that work for one group work for the other, too.

"It's been great to see his ideas develop and progress. I'm glad to have been involved in turning them into the finished product, this book."

Holt believes that Mockaitis will be one of those people, "I'll be proud to say that I knew when. I was so excited for him when I heard he'd published his book, but I'm excited for the whole world to know him in the future.

"He's destined for great things."

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