I’ve been thinking about role models lately. The media have been talking and writing about female role models a lot: Hilary Clinton, Madeline Albright, Sarah Palin. And those supposed “role models” have been talking and writing about themselves as well.
My life has been filled with great role models, and I have become an educated professional woman who is also a dedicated mother, wife and daughter. My role models, however, have never been the women of fame or fortune that society continually puts in front of me. Some of my role models have even been men (I realize this is practically heresy).
One of the role models in my life is my sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Hanson. Mrs. Hanson taught me how to be a life-long learner, because she genuinely loved to learn. Even as a teacher she was still learning, and she bravely shared her continuing thirst for knowledge with her students.
Mrs. Hanson saw the special gifts in every child, without judgment. She was a challenging teacher, but imminently fair. Every child in her class was one of her own, and she managed to bring out the best in all of us with her kindness, patience and dedication.
She wasn’t afraid to push us either. When we studied the Renaissance, she read to us from The Agony and the Ecstasy, a book considered beyond the reach of sixth graders. But she read to us and even taught us some of the Italian and Latin phrases scattered throughout the book. She modeled going beyond the minimum requirements and encouraged us to do the same.
And, Mrs. Hanson showed me how to respectfully disagree with someone. She was an avid Georgia bulldog fan, and I was a dyed-in-the-wool Georgia Tech yellow jacket (still am). We had a great rivalry (still do), but never did it become personal or disrespectful. I even finally came to appreciate the school (the University of Georgia) that could turn out a truly excellent teacher like Mrs. Hanson.
My Mom and Dad were role models for me as well. They were married fifty-five years before Mom died. That is no average feat. Keeping a marriage together that long while raising a family takes a lot of work, and even more love, from both the mother and the father. They showed me, that when times get bumpy, some things, some ideals are worth achieving—even if it takes an entire lifetime to achieve them.
Our family doctor was another role model for me. I shadowed him in his office when I was considering medicine as a career. I remember one mother who came in with an infant who was running an incredibly high temperature. It was a sweltering August day, in what had been a long sweltering summer, and the baby had simply overheated. My doctor allowed the mother and baby to stay as long as necessary in the air conditioned office and to drink as much juice, water and milk as medically prudent. While they were there, he made sure that her electric bill was paid, arranged for her to get several fans for her house and sent her home with extra formula and juice.
He showed me that healing goes far beyond the science and diagnosis; it requires an ethic of care. Although I chose to pursue science and not medicine, the way he brought the human element and the science together made an impression. Even while I worked on my dissertation research, I served as a volunteer chaplain at Emory University Hospital, just to make sure that my humanity didn’t get lost among the DNA sequences and protein gels.
So I don’t want my daughter to emulate someone because he or she is the President or Vice President or famous singer or actor. I want my daughter to have role models whose lives embody the very best of what it means to be human—a doctor practicing in a rural town who has a genuine ethic of care, two people committed to loving each other for their entire lives and beyond, or a teacher who realizes the difference she can make in a young person’s life.
Those are real role models.
© 2008, 2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.