My wife lost her father and oldest brother this past year. Two funerals within ten months. Jill’s oldest brother, David, gave the eulogy for their father, Ernie. And nearly a year later, Jill gave the eulogy for her brother. The title of her eulogy was, “Who was David Delgado?” David the son. The brother. The teacher. The leader. The friend. And the human. She could have easily rattled off all of David’s impressive accomplishments: Senior Class president in high school, Student Government president in college, public school teacher for twenty years, advisor to D.E.C.A, president of Greeley Central Teacher’s Union and chairman of Weld County Democratic Party. Instead, Jill talked about what kind of person David was – what matters most. Deeply moving.
With David dying so young, it got me thinking. And that meant I spent my Christmas break doing the things that most of us put off doing: updating my living will, reviewing my life insurance, writing out our investment and financial information, visiting our local cemetery to pick out our family plot and I started planning my own funeral service. Morbid, huh?
Jennifer Strauser is the Assistant Principal of Eureka High School in Eureka, Missouri. For years she has volunteered and brought a dozen or so of her high school students to participate in our National Leadership Academy. Jennifer is one of the best public-school administrators I’ve been blessed to know. Tough as nails, but a heart of gold. She genuinely loves and cares for her students. And they know it.
Last summer at our 18th annual National Leadership Academy, I overheard a conversation that Jennifer was having about me. I didn’t mean to ease drop. But what she said about me made a significant impact on my life.
During one of our Academy speakers, I was quietly sitting in the back row. A student was sitting next to Jennifer. And I overheard them ask Jennifer, “Who founded the National Leadership Academy?” “A guy named Tommy Spaulding,” Jennifer replied. Then they asked, “Who is Tommy Spaulding?”
I thought for sure my friend Jennifer would start rattling off my accomplishments: Eagle Boy Scout, National D.E.C.A winner, Senior Class president in high school, Senior Class president in college, former CEO & President of Up with People, national best-selling author, blah blah blah.
Instead, Jennifer shared a story.
“A few years ago, Tommy came to Missouri to speak to the Missouri Association of Secondary School Principals. I picked Tommy up in St. Louis and drove him three and a half hours to the Lake of the Ozarks, where the conference was being held. On the way back to the airport the following morning, we stopped at a local dive diner in the Lake of the Ozarks to have breakfast. After Tommy telling me it was the best omelet he’s ever had, he asked the waitress if he could speak with the chef. A few minutes later the chef came out. Tommy asked him to sit down. And for the next ten minutes I watched Tommy pour into this young chef. Telling him how talented he is. Telling him it was the best omelet he’s ever had. Telling him that he should open his own restaurant one day. You could tell by the smile on this chef’s face that Tommy’s words meant so much to him. He was beaming ear to ear. And when we left the diner, Tommy handed twenty bucks to the waitress and asked her to give it to the chef.”
That was it! That was the answer to this student’s question to Jennifer Strauser, “Who is Tommy Spaulding?”
Thousands of high school students have participated in our National Leadership and Global Youth Leadership Academies over the last nineteen years. And all Jennifer Strauser could say about me is that I spoke to a dive diner chef for ten minutes and gave him twenty bucks?
Like Ernie and David, we are all going to die one day. And someone is going to give the eulogy at our funeral. And they, most likely, will not rattle off all our accomplishments, awards and medals. They are going to tell stories about who we were rather than what we did.
Jill quoted the famous American poet, Maya Angelou, in her brother’s eulogy, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
What matters most is not our accomplishments, but how we treat people. Not our awards, but how we love and serve the people that choose to follow us. Not our medals, but how we pour into the lives of others.
It doesn’t matter how long our resumes are. What positions we’ve held. Or the degrees we’ve earned.
Who we are, rather than what we do – and how we make people feel. That’s what matters most.