At a recent sports tourism industry conference I was asked, “In your career, what has influenced you the most?” Wow. That was a very thought provoking question. After some pause, here was my answer….
It’s a long story, but the cliff notes are that midway through first grade I was sent from my neighborhood grade school to a magnet school across town. The gifted class I entered into, which to this day I’m not sure that I belonged, was a melting pot in many ways. My hometown of Tucson, Arizona at that time was very white, very republican, and very UNdiverse. The classroom I entered that first day was none of that. There were kids of color, kids from Native American reservations, kids from Indian cultures, Hispanic kids, white kids, Jewish kids, catholic kids, atheist kids, athletic kids, artistic kids, you name it, we had it.
Over the next eight years in the Gifted And Talented Education program (G.A.T.E. as it is still known today), I met people that have impacted my life forever.
Here is a quick summary of the kids, now adults, that I went to grade school with:
One of them currently works at NASA in Houston.
One of them has created numerous video games, including Call of Duty (I’m not a gamer, but I hear that one is pretty big).
One is a surgeon, another an anesthesiologist.
One is and engineer, but also is the lead guitarist in a band that includes another one of our classmates (a band they started in 5th grade).
One is the fire chief for the largest North America tribe in the country.
One is a math teacher that followed in the footsteps of his dad, who was also one of our teachers back in the day.
And finally, the one I’m most proud of is the director of student services at the largest university in our country. He was also the best man at my wedding. Del, I love you brother.
There are many more in those classrooms that have or will make monumental contributions to society. I was fortunate, lucky, and blessed to be in their presence. But going back to the original question about how they influenced me…..
Going to school in such a diverse environment taught me that talented people come in all sorts of packages. They may not look like you, talk like you, or come from a family like yours. Everyone has something to contribute, no matter their race, their beliefs, their athletic ability (or not), their age, their sex, or their wisdom. The world we live in today is chaotic. Many of our elected officials are trying to homogenize our nation and potentially minimize the effect outside cultures have made throughout the history of our country. No matter what side of the isle you are on politically, think about this. Our country was founded by outsiders. The classroom I was in with the talented people I’ve noted above may not be possible in the future. That would not only be sad, but would be a big “miss” for the future leaders of our society. We all benefit from diverse perspectives. We needdifferent points of view to grow as people and as leaders.
While I have not talked to some of my classmates in 35-plus years, I want them to know they made a major impact on my life. They taught me so much, I cannot begin to thank them for their positive influences on my life’s journey. To my G.A.T.E. tribe at Bonillas, Lineweaver, and Vail schools in Tucson, thank you for being you.
On this Labor Day, take time to thank those that have positively impacted your life, work or otherwise. Have a great holiday my friends.