I want to begin with a huge thank you for this incredible honor just 24 years after I left these walls and halls as a student--and there are some new walls and halls now. I want to thank Upper Darby not only for the honor now, but also for laying the foundation for the accomplishments that led to this honor. There was a book published while I was studying at Penn State called All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. I’m not quite sure I’d attribute everything I needed to know to kindergarten in the old Highland Park Elementary School building. However, my thirteen years in the Upper Darby School District contributed to what I know, to how I learn, and to the content of my character in ways that have been critical to my professional, personal, and community activities in the time since. I was lucky enough to interact with incredible teachers, coaches and other education professionals who cared and gave of their time and effort. My classmates and family also made an incredible difference in many teachable moments along the way.
Now, let me tell you a story—a story about storytelling. Storytelling is not just for when you sit around campfires or want to exaggerate about the size of the fish you caught. Storytelling has been an important part of my personal and professional life and even an important part of my fitness. In fact, if someone asked me to come up with just one word—one word that would summarize the common theme throughout all the success (and even some of the failures) I’ve had since graduating from UDHS—one word that would summarize the key ingredient to the rest of what I hope to accomplish—that word would be storytelling. For someone with my bio it may not be obvious why that is the case. So, let me tell the rest of my story today and pay tribute to the one teacher who I think was the best storyteller of them all—Richard Maxwell.
I was lucky enough to have Mr. Maxwell as my 10th grade honors physics teacher. He had a story for everything. His stories helped us understand why we should care about physics. His stories helped make clear to us why we should care about the world in which we lived. While he was charged with teaching us physics, he did more—he taught us about a basic inquisitive philosophy of life. That was magical. Today, whenever I speak with a potential student or potential faculty member about why they should come to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, I tell them that one reason is that everyone on the campus is genuinely intellectually curious. Many people contributed to the development of my curiosity—Mr. Maxwell was among the best. So, how do curiosity and storytelling enter what I do?
When I conduct research—it begins with curiosity; then to attract resources for the project I need to tell a story about why it should be of interest; and when I’m done I share my results and complete the task with storytelling.
When I participate in committees, particularly in leadership positions, I am driven by a curiosity about how committee members can work for change and improvement and use stories to share my vision with fellow committee members.
When I evaluate others’ work—their storytelling—I am willing because of curiosity about their work and my task is critiquing their ability to communicate their ideas through stories.
When I teach—I tell stories to transfer the joy and excitement of my curiosity about a subject to my students.
When I participate in music ministry at my church—I am driven by my curiosity about my faith and about music in general and use the music to make the stories easier to remember.
When I run, I am always curious about how far I can go, how fast I can go, whether I can maintain a particular pace, or what’s new on a familiar trail. Much like in my research, I have a story to guide what I expect the run to be like and I come away with a story of how the run actually went. I use these stories to share ideas with others in a blog after I run.
Storytelling and my passion for it have made incredible opportunities available for me. Some I dreamt of when I graduated in 1987 and quoted from a dark Emily Dicksinson poem (someone else’s story) in my graduation speech. Others, I would have never anticipated. When I graduated, Mr. Maxwell signed my yearbook and wished me “rewarding and purposeful” years ahead. As you move forward, may your stories and storytelling bring you as much of what Mr. Maxwell wished me as I’ve been blessed to experience.