I’m no guru. I’m just a high school principal in a small town in southern Arkansas. I am writing this article to share a personal life lesson that might benefit other secondary school principals.
I have come to discover that all of us can reach rock-star status in whatever we choose, from relationships to careers, if we possess a key ingredient. This special ingredient revolves around a word that I have never really paid much attention to, nor did I fully grasp the intensity of its meaning until now. The word is passion.
Three years ago, I sat for eight months and watched as my father, Steve Carter, struggled through a battle with cancer. My dad was not a real rock star in the true sense of the word, but even in the final stages of his life, he maintained rock-star status. He was not a rock star who played on a stage in front of thousands, but he was a rock star as he lay in a bed dying. You may ask yourself, how on earth does this make him a rock star? The answer is that he had a passion for life and for people that never wavered, even when facing death.
The Clapton Connection
For eight months, I watched as my father interacted with many friends and family members who came to pay their last respects to a man who made them feel like rock stars. I could not help but notice how he passionately embraced each and every person as if they were the most important person in the world. As I prepared to say goodbye to my dad, I would listen to a song by Eric Clapton called “My Father’s Eyes.” This song is special to me simply because it is a constant reminder of my time spent with my father. I must have listened to it a thousand times until my father passed on July 24, 2013.
A couple of months ago, I was sitting in my office in Magnolia, AR, in the early morning hours prior to school starting, listening to music. I always turn on the music and close my eyes and listen (another thing my father shared with me was his love of music). I use music to ease the tension of the day. On this particular morning, the song “My Father’s Eyes” came on. As I sat in my chair and listened, I closed my eyes, and all of a sudden I was back at my dad’s house with him. What a great feeling! While I sat and listened to Eric Clapton, I felt drawn to hear more, feel more, as if it would give me just a tiny glimpse of my dad. I chose to go to YouTube to watch him and his band perform. Yes, I was watching Eric Clapton, a real rock star, but I started to notice something extremely interesting. The meshing of the band creating amazing music was proof that they are indeed rock stars, but I could see in their mannerisms that it was so much more than just an amazing guitar player or amazing instrumentation. You do not have to be a musician to recognize my feelings at that moment. While Eric Clapton standing on a stage playing a guitar is exciting enough, what I saw and heard was much more than great music; it’s something called passion. Eric Clapton did not seem interested in the giant crowd or in fame. He was passionate about his music. He loved to perform.
The Fast-food Chain Connection
A few days ago, I pulled up to a drive-thru window at a certain fast food chain. As I reached the window, it was flung open by a young man, maybe 18 years old, and he greeted me with the biggest smile and the loudest good morning one could stand! It was actually quite amazing. You know, there is something to be said about every person’s eyes, and this young man’s eyes beamed with excitement. He clearly had a passion that shone through his job. He has the desire, the passion, to make each person’s day better by the way he greets them. It is almost impossible to describe, but he makes you feel as if you are meant to be at that exact place at that exact moment in time. His greeting made me feel as if I were the only person on earth, just like my dad did when he was saying his goodbyes. Yes, this young man works for minimum wage at a fast food chain, yet he maintains a level of remarkable passion. He is a rock star. I love people who reach rock-star status by expressing their passion.
Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” I absolutely believe if we take the passionate approach, we can make people feel complete. This is especially true in our role as secondary school principals.
The School Connection
As a high school principal, people have come in and out of my life that have forced me to be unselfish and forgiving. Some people who I thought might just be passing through became bright spotlights who helped to shape and mold me into the man and principal I am now. I am so thankful I took the time to be passionate when speaking to those people. I often wonder if I had not spoken to them or shaken their hands, would I be who I am today? I am thankful that they have helped to shape me, and I hope that I have been passionate enough to change them as well. People lean on me sometimes for direction and guidance, and I hope I can help those who come to me find the passion in their lives.
The lesson of “the passion of a rock star” goes so much further than playing amazing guitar, drums, or bass. It goes back to having a passion for life and people while maintaining dignity and integrity. It goes back to a young man who makes you feel as though you are the most important person in his life at that moment in time. It goes back to a teacher who takes three seconds of his or her time to explain something again (and again and again) with fidelity, knowing that a student might just need that extra three seconds of his or her time.
What makes a new principal—who struggles with young people all day long—take the time to walk a student home because a parent cannot be reached? Passion! Passion from that principal does not allow the young person to walk alone. Passion for their job also helps keep the custodian or cafeteria worker smiling. Passion is intrinsic, personal, and—most of all—important to the success of our students and harmony in the world.
Yes, Eric Clapton is a true rock star, but we can all be rock stars if we have passion for our work. We can change the life of someone with nothing more than a kind greeting or action. To attain rock-star status, have passion for what you do, and share that passion every day.
Chris Carter is the principal of Magnolia High School in Arkansas.