Local Heroes

When she was 16 years old, Deirdre Sullivan’s father insisted that she go to the funeral of her 5th grade math teacher. She complained and resisted, but her father was adamant. Always go to the funeral, he instructed her: “Do it for the family.”

Her father’s advice is the focus of Sullivan’s widely read “This I Believe” essay, part of the collection assembled by National Public Radio between 2005-2009 when it rebooted the 1950s series hosted by Edward R. Murrow. Hundreds of similar essays, written by famous artists, scientists, educators, athletes and politicians as well as by unknown people who responded to the invitation to compose an essay, can be accessed through the This I Believe website. It is a treasure trove for short readings that can be used to prompt discussion about life, meaning, and purpose. Asking students to write their own “This I Believe” essay (and then to share them aloud with their classmates) can be a very effective exercise. It’s especially powerful when the professor shares his or her own essay. Continue reading

May Their Memory be a Blessing

Following their respective deaths in August, the news recently has included remembrances of Aretha Franklin (1942-2018) and John McCain (1936-2018). Through various tributes, we get a sense of their lives as well as their social and cultural significance. This has been followed by commentary about what makes for an appropriate way to remember someone after their passing. (Is such second-order critique inevitable or is it another symptom of our cultural divide?). We learn something about our collective life in these moments.

Whether it is an internationally known figure or a “local hero,” reflecting upon how we remember great men and women can be instructive. Eulogies are an important form of articulating what we understand to be a good life.  Continue reading