05 November 2008

My heroes have always been......

When I was in high school, I had a history class taught by Mr. Traebant. Mr. Traebant was known for wearing all black on test days. A real maverick, that one. One of our assignments in his class was to do a report on someone we admired. We were partnered with another student, but we each had to select one person, then present our heroes as a group. I selected Muhammad Ali. My partner selected Elton John. I think you can see the problem in this partnership.

In a speech class in high school, we were asked to give a speech on the person we admired most. I can't remember who I selected, but I do remember that Mike McDowell (who I thought was wicked cute at the time) selected Jesus Christ. I remember suspecting Mike of making that choice to impress girls. Religion was sort of ever present in my public high school. As an Episcopalian, I always felt left out. All the cool kids were Baptist or something. The "Christian Athletes" gave a prayer every morning over the intercom and those prayers were always this sort of rambling Baptist "Oh Lord watch over us and guide us" business that wasn't anything like the way we prayed in my church. It always reminded me of being asked to say the prayer at Thanksgiving Dinner, a job I NEVER wanted to have. I always fell back on the Lord's Prayer. Easy and everyone knew it. Anyway, I asked Mike to go to the drive in with me one night and he did and I was totally psyched, but he never so much as tried to hold my hand. To this day, I don't know if it was his Christian sensibilities that prevented that or if Mike is gay. I had no gaydar back in the day. In any event, since the public prayer in school was a volunteer thing done by students for students, the laws regarding separation of church and state apparently did not exist in my school district. Why I remember this now, I have no idea, but this got me to thinking about people who directly or indirectly had an influence on me coming up.

My childhood heroes included:
Muhammad Ali
Donna DeVarona
Walter Payton
Carol Burnett
Stephen King
Beverly Cleary
Robert Redford
my father
both of my grandmothers
John Weckler

This list includes athletes, coaches, entertainers, writers, and relatives. When I look at this list it occurs to me that I had very few interests as a kid and I pursued them with some measure of single-mindedness. I was athletic and extremely interested in sports. I swam and ran track. I think my parents worried that I might turn out lesbian. I enjoyed entertainment, including comedy and writing and at one time sought a career as a creative writer. I loved animals and for a while, I wanted to be a veterinarian. But in the world that was my household, we didn't have big dreams. We had practical ones. So I was expected (or at least thought I was expected) to downscale and I set out to become a draftsman. Unfortunately, when I finished my technical degree the economy was so bad that I couldn't find a job. Forget that I was a woman in a man's field. Even the men couldn't find work. I decided I needed a career that wasn't so terribly economy driven. I went back to school and pursued a degree in business. I know. Clearly I wasn't as smart back then.

Accounting and marketing. I was bored out of my mind. I remember one day in the middle of an accounting class, I looked around the room at the rest of the students and I thought to myself...I don't want to work with these people. I don't like them. They aren't like me. I can't do this. I had one English course (a required upper level course) that I liked, so I went to talk to the professor. In less than a week, I had a new major and a new lease on life. I switched to English and ended up with a degree with a writing emphasis. I was actually able to find work as a writer so that worked out pretty well. But in the accident that has always been my life, I drifted without any real plan.

I sought work that interested me. It wasn't very profitable but it did introduce me to science. I often joke that the IRS killed my father and the Field Museum ruined my life. Two years out of college, I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. And even when I knew it, I didn't think it was a good idea. Outside of the Field I didn't know anyone who was a botanist. Outside of college, I never knew anyone who was a professor. I mean, it was crazy. Those guys at the Field were waaaaaaaaaaay smarter than me. I toyed with the idea of returning to go to law school. I started studying for whatever entrance exam it is that law students take. There was one section on the practice exams that I could not answer a single question correctly. I decided that I lacked some inherent quality that any good lawyer should possess and tossed that idea. With no direction and no one stepping up to lead the cause, in the endless serendipity that is my life, I let someone talk me into marrying them.

Now that I look at this, my life has been a rambling mess. For the past 8 years I've been single-mindedly pursuing this degree. My siblings are beginning to murmur that they are concerned they are going to have to take care of me in my old age. They want me to finish and start saving money for retirement. I don't want to retire. Despite this, I seem to have lost my drive to finish. I can't seem to remember why I thought this was such a great idea in the first place. I'm not any closer to having a plan for the future.

But that doesn't mean my life hasn't been touched in significant ways by the people I have met. Today the people I admire are people I have known. People who taught me about being a better person. I think those people need to be recognized.

Bill Campbell, UK
Dan Evans, Marshall U
Dorothea Vicari, formerly of the Field
Mike Spock, formerly of the Field
Mike Dillon, Field Museum
Melinda Pruett-Jones, Chicago Wilderness

I've changed a lot. I think I've changed for the better because of these people. If your name is on this list, thanks.


  1. Interesting. I think I'm with you on people I've known being my heroes now.

    I didn't really have any heroes growing up. Is that weird? I didn't really particularly admire any one person's accomplishments, or give them much thought outside of general admiration for what they were able to achieve, but I don't remember ever feeling personal inspiration from it. When asked to write about our heroes in 5th grade, I wrote about my parents "because I couldn't think of anyone else." They were very flattered -- even knowing my reason -- but of course now that I'm older, I know that they truly are my heroes, they are amazing fantastic parents and every day I remember how lucky I am.

  2. Actually, I don't think that's weird. I think Mr. Traebant had this expectation that we all had some childhood hero. I was just attracted to Ali's swagger. I've always been willing to forgive a lot from people who have the talent to back up the mouth. Call it my bad boy phase. Ha! In any event, I'm not sure I admired him for his accomplishments, but for his entertainment value. The others, well, they were people I enjoyed. I think I might have given my speech about my dad. I was always hard pressed to come up with a childhood hero, too.

    I think it's fantastic that you got a great set of parents, too. I've always felt a tad guilty about that. Can't figure how I got so lucky.