Brown reminded guests of the pressing need for “being your best when it matters the most.” The message was the capstone to the three-day conference, Nov. 20-22, that saw attendees focus on a variety of leadership-related workshops and presentations, as well as sessions on self-improvement, and professional development.
Also during that third general session, three individuals were honored for their service to the education community. June Wilkey-Isselhardt assistant to the superintendent and board secretary of O’Fallon Community Consolidated School District 90, was announced as the 2015 recipient of the Holly Jack Outstanding Service Award for district secretaries. The Illinois Association of School Business Officials recognized Terrie S. Simmons as this year’s Ronald E. Everett Distinguished Service Award winner. And John Smith, board president of Meridian Community Unit School District 223, was named the 2015 Thomas Lay Burroughs Award winner, an honor that goes to the state’s top school board president each year.
“I almost died, three times,” he said. “At one time it snowed so hard I couldn’t see the car in front of me. So I stopped the car and called my dad….He said, 'you can’t make a difference if you don’t show up.’”
Brown also praised employees he encountered on the Chicago Hyatt staff. He found them after he finally reached Chicago, exhausted after driving through blizzard conditions much of the day and evening from his home in Nashville, Tenn. There he “ran smack dab up against a parade,” he said. After taking several detours that got him no closer, he called the hotel and spoke with two staff members who were instrumental in guiding him to the hotel garage.
The employees, Linda and Miguel, both had made good on their assurances that they would stick with him until he got to the hotel, and both did so because they wanted to be of service, not for any reward.
The third general session began with Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA) President Susan Harkin, superintendent of Geneseo CUSD 228, acknowledging those in attendance for their heroic commitment to public education. “Thanks to the seven hundred-plus school districts and nearly ten-thousand school leaders represented at this eighty-third Joint Annual Conference. We are grateful for your continued participation in this event and your commitment toward continued learning,” Harkin said.
Brown followed Harkin in praising school leaders for their commitment, concluding that school leaders must keep that attitude if they are to remain heroes in their everyday lives. Brown touched on several key points in reminding those in attendance how to be heroes. He said heroes help people with no strings attached, and they create an exceptional experience for the people they serve. They also take responsibility for their attitude, actions and results, and see life through the lens of optimism, which he said is not the same thing as positivity.
Positivity often denies reality, he suggested, because sometimes everything goes wrong. But optimism sees past those obstacles that life presents to envision reaching goals. Belief that the goal can be reached is the key, he said.
He challenged the audience to be heroes, those extraordinary people who choose to be at their best when it matters the most. As the father of an autistic child he told a story about a visit to Disney World and an encounter with a wonder chef that showed how the principles of true success reach into the lives of real people facing the challenges of everyday life. The chef prepared some “mouse-shaped” pancakes for Brown’s son, made with ingredients purchased to meet his special dietary needs. “And she became a part of my family,” he noted.
He suggested that those who want to be heroic need to be willing to be different, unlike a man he overheard while he was with his family visiting Disney World. The man was telling his wife he would not put on a pair of glasses because he feared how odd it would make him look, Brown said. “You should have thought of that before you put on the mouse ears,” Brown thought to himself.
But then that man's wife told him it should be done because the trip was for their children.
“Not everyone wants to be one, but we’re all role models,” Brown said. “Somebody is always watching you,” he added.
“What you do truly matters,” said Brown. “The only question is, what difference do you make….I see a room full of heroes,” he concluded.