Before dawn, on Friday, September 21, 2017 a group of teenagers gathered on a hilltop in Arlington, VA.
They were invited to watch the sun rise on the Autumn Equinox — hours before the school day was set to begin — with Mr. Summers, their IB Philosophy teacher at Washington-Lee High School.
Each of these kids had to find a way to this hilltop on their own, which is miles away from the school. There was no bus. They had to walk/bike/figure-it-out to get there.
Here’s the kicker: This was an optional activity. It won’t make much of a blip in the grade book, and it certainly will not make-or-break any student’s grade.
What happened next astounded me: Dozens of kids showed up.
Mr. Summers inspired these young people to go well outside of their comfort zone, and do something different. He helped them see a moment in a new light. He brought them to this hilltop to inspire and motivate them in a quest for wisdom.
And it was joyful! It was full of energy and optimism and adventure and fun and community.
I’m the parent of three teenagers. I know precisely how hard it is to get a young person out of bed and moving in the morning.
And as a general rule, teenagers tend to resist doing anything associated with school work that is not “required.”
(And in all fairness to kids, it’s because the academic pressure on so many of these students is so intense you can literally see the burden on their shoulders. I have my own views on that. That’s a whole different story for another time.)
Today, I want to show you what a person who defines excellence looks like:
I know that Mr. Summers inspires excellence because I was first person witness as he inspired each and every one of these students to find excellence within themselves and to bring it to this hilltop before dawn on a Friday morning in September.
I also know that Mr. Summers inspires excellence because I learn Philosophy through my daughter. What she’s learning in class becomes the topic of our dinner table conversations. Mr. Summers’ excellence inspires excellence in my kid, and I learn through her. Just as I learned Government through her from Mr. Kuhn last year, and Biology from Dr. Hoo the year before. There are so many teachers who have taught me over the years, through my children.
Teaching is T-H-E most noble profession. Teachers literally shape the future. Our society does not appropriately recognize or compensate teachers for the contributions they make.
Which is why I remain eternally grateful, and perpetually inspired, that people like Mr. Summers continue investing their talents in our future. The world is a better place for it.