Viterbo University Strides Magazine Online

Viterbo College Strides Magazine Winter 99


Who are our heros?

AIsn’t it funny how things change from generation to generation, yet stay the same in many respects?

I really never gave that much thought until I was charged with writing a series of stories about today’s “new student” in this issue of Strides.

Then it hit me. While many things are different about these students, there remains one constant in most of them.

It’s not the clothes they wear or the music they listen to. Nor is it the way they act or the work ethic they bring with them to college. Those things change from student to student and from generation to generation.

The one constant I found are the people students list as their heroes.

Some students say their heroes are folks like Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson, Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa, Princess Diana or Mother Teresa, John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr. And why not. These people have done some pretty amazing things.

And that hasn’t changed much from past generations as people like Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle, Harry Truman or Winston Churchill have all been mentioned as heroes.

There always have been, and always will be, those who think of sports stars and society’s movers and shakers as heroes.

But how do we truly define a hero?

There are many definitions, like the one in Life magazine’s “Hall of Heroes.” It reads: “(Heroes) are men or women, privileged or poor, patriots or rebels. They are different from the rest of us, and yet the same. They are our inspiration and therefore essential.”

Then there is Sen. Bob Kerrey’s (D-Neb.) definition. He says, “A hero is not stone. A hero fails, doubts, cries and suffers great moments of despair. A hero perseveres; higher duty and purpose triumph over forgetfulness and arrogance. A hero loves and is loved in return.”

And if you ask the many students roaming the Viterbo campus their definition of what a hero is, you are bound to get as many definitions as there are students.

But if you were to ask those same students who their heroes are, the majority of them would have the same answer—mom and dad.

I give students a lot of credit for wading through the tons of images and sound bites in this technology driven society that make it hard not to think of the Michael Jordans and Mark McGwires as their heroes.

Sure, Michael Jordan is probably the best basketball player to hit the hardwood, period. He most certainly is the most well-known athlete of our time and gives a lot of his time and money to charitable organizations. But does that make him hero material? Maybe.

And what about Mark McGwire? He, too, has done some amazing things on and off the field. But does that make him a hero? It does to some and maybe not to others.

I know as a kid growing up in Illinois in the 60s and 70s, and even in the 80s, my heroes were those people I heard most about in the news or those I followed on the sports fields. There was Bob Gibson and Stan Musial, Lou Brock and Roberto Clemente, Walter Payton and Mike Singletary.

But like most kids who mature into young adults, I realized these stars weren’t really my heroes. They were just athletes that were really good at what they did. In the end, the people I really wanted to be most like were my parents. They were the ones that made me who I am today and instilled the values I will always carry with me.

And I have found out in the process of writing these stories that as students mature, they, too, realize that the true heroes in their lives are not superstar athletes, politicians or civil rights leaders. They are simply  mom and dad—or in the cases where families are not intact— that “everyday” relative or friend, or teacher, who cared and shared a part of life in seemingly small and intimate ways.

I may be an overly optimistic person, but I really don’t think this will change anytime soon, either. You see, I have first-hand experience at this hero thing.

The other day, my 3-year-old son, Alex, proclaimed that I, along with his mother, were his heroes.

Not only was that a wonderful thing to hear and something that made me a bit teary-eyed, it solidified what I’ve been trying to say here…that no matter how many superstars are out there, most people come full circle to recognize their true heros. People who  students want to pattern their lives after.

I think Big Bird said it best when he said: “My heroes are Larry Bird, Admiral Byrd, Lady Byrd, Cheryl Crow, Chick Corea, the inventor of bird seed, and anyone who reads to you even if she’s tired, or makes you feel safe if you’re afraid.”

So for you cynics who ask “where have all the heroes gone?” I, and many of the students at Viterbo say they have never really been that far away.

If you  like this article, you will enjoy many of the other articles which appear in “Strides” Magazine. Most were written by Jerry Smith, who is a writer and Sports Information Director at Viterbo College. Smith, who is a gradute of UW-Milwaukee, is a former copy editor at the La Crosse Tribune.