A lot of the electric co-ops in Kentucky sponsor different kinds of scholarship programs and that means I’m occasionally invited to judge pageants and essay contests.
The most interesting and satisfying part of these processes are the personal interviews with the students. The settings and procedures are usually disorienting in how artificial they have to be to accommodate a large number of finalists. The students, as young as ninth-graders to sometimes juniors in college, come in to a small room or a corner of a large one for a three- to five-minute interview, sometimes by one judge, sometimes by a panel of judges.
Three minutes is not very long. The questions and answers have to come out quick and short. One time the length of the interviews was monitored by a kitchen timer that crowed like a rooster when the three minutes were up.
Bewildering as these settings can be, they call for the students to be sharp and alert, and to be generally thoughtful and introspective people. To do well they need to be calm and articulate in a room of rapid-fire questioning and rooster timers going off. Face it, there is real money at stake to be used for their educations, and this is a competition. Somebody needs to win according to some criteria, and a demonstration of poise and clear thinking in the middle of a lot of hubbub may very well be an appropriate way to make a selection. Heck, it may be a good skill to develop for coping with normal life these days.
But what has impressed me most at these events is the answer to one question I usually ask: Who is your hero?
The answer is almost always the same: My parents.
I always have a lot of time to think about that answer as I drive back home, and the thoughts always make me feel good.
In a way it’s too bad that those students aren’t looking up to current popular celebrities or even historical figures. I share the popular disillusionment that it’s unfortunate that many public figures display a behavior that young people shouldn’t model themselves after.
But even if all of today’s celebrities were flawless, it would still be pretty wonderful to have children thinking of their parents as heroes. That’s how it ought to be.