In 500 words or less

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I’ve always had problems answering the questions “Who do you look up to?” “Who in your life do you admire?” “If you could meet a famous, past or present, person, who would it be and why?” “Who has had a significant impact upon your life?” In essence any question that forced me to choose what essentially amounted to an idol. They are questions that I have been required to make answers up to since childhood. In elementary school, I think I wrote about my parents. In middle school, I had just written a report on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, so he became my subject. High school brought on practice college essays and real college essays. I think on one of those, I avoided the issue entirely and wrote about how it was wisdom from a fortune cookie that had shaped me and not an actual person

      It was a very life-changing fortune cookie, but really that wasn’t the point.


I think the question that these teachers, schools and tests were really trying to ask is “Who do you consider to be a great leader, and why?”

Of course, this is far too cerebral for a six year old,or a sixteen year old to answer. In all honesty, as an almost-23-year-old, I still find it difficult.

I think my issue with the question has always been, and probably always will be, the idea of choosing one, single person who I believe perfectly embodies the characteristics of a leader. At a younger age, I don’t know if I truly understood what a leader was other than the President of The United States. Now, there are so many people, past and present whose leadership has somehow touched and changed me.

They may not have blown up railroads, but they were just kids

Take for example my grandparents. While I’m not sure of their exact involvement-which to this day they do not like talking about – I know they were both somehow slightly involved in the Danish resistance movement. They were both children at the time, but if I remember correctly they did things like deliver resistance newsletters.  Pretty daring.




My dad was part of a group that made sure this didn't happen again.

Or my father, who along with a fairly large group of students stood passively between protesters and riot police at Ohio State University during Vietnam War protests to avoid another situation like Kent State.



The mother of modern nursing
Or then, there’s the first woman I really thought, wow, she’s amazing: Florence Nightingale. Why she made an impression on a 7-year-old reading a little biography, I do not know. But I remember thinking her compassion was just the coolest thing ever.

I could do this forever. I could list and list and list, on and on and on.

While cognitively I can answer the question, and probably could write an awesome essay that would get me into my top choice school, I don’t think I would every really want to. Nor could I without lying.

My personal leaders are those who have shaped me as a person and inspired me to be who I am now through example and gentle guidance. Considering that, I have had much too many leaders touch my life to choose only one.


One Comment on “In 500 words or less”

  1. I’m so moved by this. You are great. I admire your models/heroes. Because i am not limited by 500 words, I can add another brave woman for your consideration. Your mother had the vision and strength to adopt a new country and religion and then devote herself for how many years to nurturing some of the most challenging, difficult children and families. And she did it all gracefully.

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