Dan Carstens, Principal, Nikiski Middle/High School
To me, a hero is someone who exemplifies a life, skills, or trait that we desire to possess. Oftentimes, we will read a book, watch a video, or attend a conference that may give us a path to becoming more like that person. Often, we come to find out that the more we try to emulate our heroes, the more we fail. At times, we forget how much our heroes failed before they finally figured it out. Is Michael Jordan your hero? He missed approximately 9,000 shots. What about Babe Ruth? He struck out nearly twice as many times as he hit a home run. The music streaming service Pandora was rejected by around 300 venture capitalists before finally landing a deal. Chemists failed 39 times before finally producing the wonder lubricant WD40. And what would have happened if Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female in the U.S. to earn a medical degree, had quit trying to get into medical school after her 29th attempt? (She got in on her 30th try).
We all have heroes in our lives, whether professional, personal, or simply someone active in the things we enjoy doing. Growing up, I always loved baseball. My hero was Dale Murphy, who played for the Atlanta Braves. Ted Turner had proclaimed his club “America’s Team” and made Braves fans all across the country—even kids like me from far-off Alaska. I remember one specific time when one of my teammates and I were arguing over who was going to be Dale Murphy in our upcoming whiffle ball home run derby. We each came up with highly sophisticated arguments for why the other could never be Dale Murphy: “You can’t hit the ball far enough!” “I can hit the ball farther than you!” Our “discussion” must’ve gotten a little heated, because a third guy came over and simply said, “Oh yeah, well I’m going to be Timmy Ferris.” His name was Timmy Ferris.
Fast forward life now for about 30 years, and I find myself having heroes in my professional life. I see Jimmy Casas motivate and inspire teachers and principals to be the best they can possibly be. There’s Glenn Robbins, with his risk taking in the Ed Camp and Maker Space worlds. Ben Gilpin speaks about building relationships and how he opens himself up to the people he leads by being vulnerable. It’s like wrapping up Superman, Batman, and The Flash into one ultimate educational superhero and being that person. I want to be that person! Then, as you talk with your heroes a little more, you realize the struggle, challenges, and failures they all went through to get where they are—it’s an often-told story. They just simply never stopped trying as they pursued their passion. They were persistent and acted fearlessly.
The bottom line is that it is awesome to have heroes. They inspire and motivate us to become better each and every day. The above three gentlemen are heroes I was able to connect with, and they continue to inspire me. At the same time, I know they have their own journeys, just like I have mine. I can’t hit the “Easy” button and all of a sudden become the ultimate education super hero. I have to remember Timmy Ferris and be my best self. Who knows, maybe even I can become someone’s hero someday.