“A journey, I reflected, is of no merit unless it has tested you.”
We all admire people who succeed against the impossible. It doesn’t matter if they climbed a mountain, succeeded in business, wrote a best seller or taught a great class. If their accomplishment came in spite of huge obstacles, these kinds of people inspire us to accomplish things we never thought possible.
Joan of Arc was a 14-year-old illiterate peasant girl. Yes, in spite of the prejudice against peasants and women, she persuaded the Dauphin of France to lay siege to the town of Orleans. She correctly prophesied the Dauphin would be again crowned king of France. Seven years after her death, the French had defeated the English.
Florence Nightingale served in hospitals when nurses were given little respect or priority. Her influence helped to change attitudes toward the nursing profession and implement new practices which helped to improve mortality survival rates.
Thomas Edison was fired from his job when a chemical experiment leaked acid onto his boss’ desk. However, despite being almost penniless, Edison rose to be the most prolific inventor of his generation.
Jesse Owens experienced huge racial discrimination here in the United States but that did not stop him. In 1936, he became a global icon in the Berlin Olympics by winning the Olympic gold in the 100 meter race. Owens helped to shatter the myth of Hitler’s theory of Aryan superiority.
Malala Yousafazai is that amazing Pakistani schoolgirl who defied the threats of the Taliban to campaign for the right to an education. For her defiance, she was shot in the head by the Taliban, but through her amazing survival she has become a global advocate for human rights, women’s rights and the right to education. The chant “I am Malala” has galvanized a generation of admirers.
Winston Churchill inspired a nation to fight on and achieve total victory – no matter what the cost – over Hitler and his all-conquering war machine. The year was 1940 when Britain stood alone as Hitler’s troops swept everything in their path. Voices within Britain advocated suing for peace. But five years later, because of Winston Churchill’s courageous voice, British troops took part in the Allied landings in Normandy and over a year later completed the liberation of Europe.
Marie Curie became one of the most important scientists of her generation even though she lived in an age when few women were able to be educated. Her discoveries enabled the development of modern radiation and the X-Ray. She was one of the few people to receive a Nobel Prize for both medicine and physics.
J. K. Rowling became the world’s best-selling children’s author, despite managing on benefits of a single mother. Initially, her manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected by several publishers.
Beethoven’s loss of hearing, the greatest possible misfortune for a musician, did not stop him from composing some of the most sublime pieces of music in the history of man.
We could go on and on citing remarkable people who, against all odds, rose above those odds to make a significant mark on their generation. We could reference Rosa Parks, who took a stand on a bus, or Mahatma Gandhi, who stood against the British domination of India through non-violent protest.
The more I read about Nelson Mandela, the more his amazing life inspires me. He found South Africa bound by apartheid, but the force of his very life transformed his country and the world.
Helen Keller, the first deaf blind person to earn a bachelor’s degree, said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail.”
Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
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