Raising Superheroes

Clair Ward
[Head of School Clair Ward delivered the following remarks on Back-to-School Night, September 19, 2019.]

Greta Thunberg had an idea. She thought the world wasn’t trying hard enough to address the global impact of climate change. Now, ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit scheduled for September 23—where countries are supposed to address curbing greenhouse gases under the 2015 Paris climate agreement—she will lead the youth of the world in a Global Climate Strike that has even inspired some of our very own Shore students. That is the power of an idea.

Kenneth Shinozuka had an idea, which he shared in a TED Talk. In it, he explained how he created a simple invention to alert him when his grandfather, who was struggling with Alzheimers, would wander out of bed at night. He worked toward an elegantly simple solution to make his grandfather safer. It turned out to be something lots of families across the world needed. That is the power of an idea.

Robby Novak, more popularly known as The Kid President, had an idea, too. His was to take to the internet with videos that would give the world a pep talk. His videos have been viewed over one hundred million times. Imagine a little kid thinking that he could make a difference in the world’s morale. That is the power of an idea.

Here on campus, I donned a superhero cape on the Opening Day of school with the hope that we would have a cool theme for the year. This week alone, teachers have highlighted a large number of heroic acts that children on campus have completed—acts of courage, acts of kindness—acts that were heroic in particular because they were intrinsically motivated. Even the adults have gotten a piece of the action. A staff member sent me a note about a colleague who had helped her. She even included an emoji dressed in a superhero cape—I didn’t even know that was a thing! That is the power of an idea.

It would be easy to look at the young people I mentioned above and quickly label them as special. What I am beginning to wonder is not what makes a child special, but what kind of environment makes a special child possible. What these three kids have in common is that they pursued an idea—not for fame or for glory, but to make their immediate world better. And my theory is that they had adults around them ready to encourage and coach, not tell or direct. Our goal as adults should not be to raise children to perform. We should challenge each other to raise children who are creative enough to consider an idea, brave enough to pursue it—motivated by their own intrinsic drive and not the extrinsic reward.

So tonight, as we are all together as a family community, I am hoping we can consider how we could raise children to see the power of an idea, and in particular, the power of their own ideas. What if we all agree that raising a superhero is less about helping them build their resumes and more about raising them to feel the possibility of their own ideas? What if we all agreed to give them the space, the time, and the encouragement to think boldly? Imagine the power of all the collective ideas they would have. But more than anything else, we need to raise children who care. If we are able to do that, in addition to raising super-heroes perhaps we ourselves will be super-heroes.
    • Greta Thunberg

    • Kenneth Shinozuka

    • Kid President