Who Have You Inspired Today
to See a New Side of Themselves?
By Brenda Clark Hamilton, MA Ed.
Recently, I was asked to speak at the all-school reunion banquet for my high school alma mater, Everly Community School District, during the community’s quasquicentennial celebration. My preparations for the reunion speech have me thinking about my school years and the various influences on my life at that time.
One pivotal moment that has come to the forefront is when I got up the nerve to try out for our junior class play, You Can’t Take It With You. Relatively shy and with no acting experience, I assumed I would be vying for a bit part. However, during my tryout, Mr. Foss, a beloved teacher and the play’s director, surprised me by asking me to read for the part of Essie, one of the key players in the comedy, who would spend most of the scenes ballet dancing clumsily and passionately across the stage, under the animated direction of her Russian ballet teacher, Boris Kolenkhov.
After I read for the part of Essie, Mr. Foss said that he’d really like to put me in the role, but that I would first need to promise him that I would truly ham it up for the audience. My first reaction was nervous hesitation, but after thinking about it overnight, I reported to Mr. Foss the next morning that a ham I would become. Two and a half decades later, we still laugh looking at the photos of the play, me in my red leotard and tutu intensely assuming the five ballet positions and a performing a bungling and comedic rendition of a pirouette.
Reflecting on my junior class play, I believe the reason why the event is such a vivid memory for me is because Mr. Foss clearly saw and nurtured something in me that I had never seen before in myself. Me, a ham? A humorous character? An actress in a tutu purposefully looking ridiculous in front of a crowd of her peers? It was so not who I thought I was. I truly believe that the only reason I had any inclination to say yes to the role was because I trusted that, if Mr. Foss thought I could do it, then maybe there was something to it.
I can’t help but think of the lesson for all of us in this pivotal memory of mine. Who can you think of who has inspired you by seeing a trait in yourself that you hadn’t been able to see on your own? Who have you inspired to see potential within themselves that they didn’t even know was there?
During numerous workplace training sessions, I have facilitated an activity where participants anonymously write positive comments about each of their co-workers. Each participant is then given his/her list to read and take with them. At the completion of the activity, it is inevitable that at least one participant says quietly and with a perplexed smile, “I didn’t know that people thought of me that way.”
I think the lesson for all of us is that when we notice a strength or hidden potential in someone, we need to be bold and tell the person what we see and challenge them to develop the possibilities. Your words may be opening that person’s eyes for the first time to see new traits, skills, or abilities that they weren’t even aware of. Your belief in them might just instill the confidence within that person to take a pivotal step forward that they might otherwise not have taken.
Who knows if Mr. Foss had not prompted me to play Essie, if I would’ve ever discovered my “inner ham.” But I do know that now, when I’m speaking at a workplace or conference and find myself having fun, being spontaneous, and stepping dangerously close to hamming it up in search of an extra laugh…I’m so glad that he did.
My postscript to this is that, while I would love to give a big hug and thanks to Mr. Doug Foss at the all-school reunion, he passed away suddenly and unexpectedly a few years ago, just a few days before the end of the school year, where he was still inspiring young lives at Clay Central/Everly High School. His funeral service was held in the high school gymnasium, the same one where I will deliver the reunion address in a few weeks. I have no doubt that his inspiration and encouragement will be present with me that evening.