This year's list is evenly split along gender lines--four men and four women. The list features three teachers and two students. One hero is a pastor, another is an attorney, and one is professional musician. Most of them, I know personally--some, like Wayna and Pat, I see everyday; others like Aaron and Poupa I see only occasionally. Mat and Meghan are strangers to me and are probably used to acclaim from every corner, such that one more tribute might not mean very much. But mine is one of the many lives they've touched and I honor them too.
The following individuals will join 92 others to create a roster of 100 Heroes as my students prepare their own lists in anticipation of our third annual Heroes Reception to be held in February 2013. As always I encourage you to keep an eye out for your own heroes and inspirations and find a way to let them know how they've impacted your life.
Pastor Joel Johnson
Benin Lee II
I’m inspired by his cheerful willingness to lend a hand
Pastor Johnson can’t be bothered. Or so it seems to me. By “can’t be bothered” I mean that it doesn’t seem possible to bother him. Call him up with a question over at the conference office, ask him to drive the bus for hours after he’s just finished traveling for days, ask him to help you plan a class trip, whatever it is you never get the feeling you are putting him out even though you know you must be. There are lots of people who will grudgingly lend you a hand, never letting your forget what an imposition it is and what a favor you’re doing for them. But Pastor Johnson is one of those rare folks who seem to really mean it when he says he’s happy to help.
I'm inspired by her passion for excellence
Wayna is great because she never settles for "good enough." In every aspect of her life, Wayna is seeking to be and do better. Whether it's her teaching, her love and compassion for her students, her walk with the Lord, and yes, even her focus on living a balanced life that puts things first, Wayna is like an Olympic athlete. She's always striving to be stronger, go faster, reach higher. As a result, her classroom is a place suffused with energy, love, and the expectation of greatness. With Wayna Gray, it's not about perfection, it's about excellence.
I'm inspired by her compassion
There are so many things she could have done. She could have crossed the finish line and then run back to check on her competitor. She could have paused to check on her, and yelled for the medical staff to come over. She could have just kept running, thankful that she wasn't going to be dead last after all. But Meghan Vogel did none of those things. Instead she stopped, lifted up a fallen foe, and carried her across the finish line. Meghan even made sure that her competitor crossed the finish line ahead of her, as she surely would have had she not collapsed. Meghan's compassionate act touched a nation as news of her heroic act went viral. But if you asked her, I'm sure she'd say "anyone would have done the same." But the fact is anyone didn't do it--Meghan did. She proved that you can finish last and still be a winner. (This website has a great video that shows Meghan's heroic moment and also includes a brief interview with her right after it happened. Take a second look and note how hesitant so many others seem to be about what to do. I want to be like Meghan and step up without hesitation when someone is in need).
I'm inspired by his music
It's undeniable, how brilliant his music is. That's how I felt the first time I heard a tune by Mat Kearney, and that's how I've felt ever since. The acoustic guitar, the neofolk singer-song writer vibe, the catchy melodies--he's one of the finest crafters of pop hooks around--the occasional hip-hop flavored rhymes are perhaps common enough. But the way Mat combines those elements and pairs them with lyrics that bring a fresh take on life is truly unique. Since I first heard Mat's music in the summer of 1997, his songs have been an integral part of my life and a sort of Official Music of Barbara and I's relationship. His song "Life Time" from his earliest years has long been the "Theme Song" for my life.
Does the music reflect the man? I can't say for sure. I've only seen him in concert three times and met him once briefly. But if the songs indeed reflect the heart of the man then Mat Kearney is, like David, a man after God's own heart, a contemporary psalmist capturing the presence of God in the joy, heartache, romance, loneliness love, struggle, and and peace of life as we know it.
I'm inspired by his unselfish example
"Every hand went up." That's how Aaron described his 8th grade class's response when he asked if they'd be willing to help my 8th grade class with some last-minute funds for our class trip. The kids didn't know each other. Aaron's students were in Redlands, California; mine were in Columbus, Ohio. His students would gain nothing by their gift, my students would gain a rich experience in New York. Yet, every hand went up and in short order some of their hard-earned money was on it's way to us. I was touched by Aaron and his wife, Joyce's quick response when they heard about the tight spot my class was in. But more than that I was moved to return to a more charitable spirit of leadership with my own 8th grade class that I'd let slip for a number of years. An 8th grade class gift--something my graduating class would give to the school, to leave behind as their legacy--used to be a regular part of my class fundraising plan. Somewhere along the way that charitable urge got lost. The budget was too tight, we barely had enough for the trip it was--the excuses came easily. But Aaron's example drew me up short and convicted me it was time to get back to making the 8th grade year not about how much we could get, but about how much we can give. This year my students will raise funds to give as well as go, and when we present our gift to our school next May, it will be in honor of and in thanks to Aaron Knowlton.
I'm inspired by her generous spirit towards others
I'm trying to imagine Poupa talking negatively about others and I just can't. It's not just that she's a positive person, though she does seem to be. It's not that she's always nice, though she's that too. Too many of us think that "being real" means being unkind, harsh, and uncharitable. But I want to "be real" the way Poupa is real. We spent an evening earlier this summer reminiscing on old times, and not once did she utter a snide remark, offer a careless joke at someone else's expense, or engage in mean-spirited gossip. As we brought up old classmates and acquaintances, she always seemed to have something generous to say about them-without any apparently "trying to be nice." Poupa and I hadn't had much contact, other than the usual Facebook friendship, until we met up for the first time in 18 years this summer, but our friendship seemed constant. Perhaps because, judging by how Poupa views, others I know that her generosity of spirit towards me is 100% genuine.
Benin Lee II
I'm inspired by his leadership
Benin doesn't need a title or office to lead. Most people can learn leadership skills, but only a few are born leaders. Benin is one of those few. There are a lot of misperceptions about leadership. People think leadership is about "being in charge." They think it means telling other people what to do, or doing a lot of public speaking. When I was sharing my choice of their former classmate with my students this past week, one student observed, "But he's younger than you!"--suggesting that I couldn't possibly view a mere youngster as a leader and someone I might look up to. But the Bible tells us that "a little child shall lead them" and anyway Benin is hardly little--these days I have to look up at him, literally! True leadership is demonstrated in standing up--taking the lead when no one else will. True leadership is demonstrated when people want to do what you say, when you speak and others can't help but listen. True leadership isn't about age or stature. Ben is a true leader, one who recognizes like his comic-book hero Spiderman--that he has great power, and thus, great responsiblity. As someone who as a teacher, holds a title of leadership I hope to lead not from that title, but from who I am, just as Ben does.
I'm inspired by her humble service
"That's not my job" isn't in Pat's vocabulary. Though she doesn't put it in to words, she demonstrates by her actions that she is here to serve. As my classroom aide last school year, she was an indispensable help to me and the students. No matter what I needed, she was ready to lend a hand. She was willing to work with any student who would let her help. And she did this all without complaint, even when it was difficult and when her efforts went unappreciated. I'm sure there were days when she wondered whether it was worth it, whether she was making a difference at all, and yet she kept on serving. If the "greatest among you is the servant of all," then Pat Fountain is one of the greatest people I've ever known, and a true King's Daughter.
See Past Inspiration Honorees--click on the following links:
My Personal Influences: Inspirations 2007
The Second Annual Inspirations List: 2008
The Third Annual Inspirations List: 2009
The Fourth Annual Inspirations List: 2010
The Fifth Annual Inspirations List: 2011