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What Does Above and Beyond Look Like? Is It Always About You, Or Being Part of Something Larger?

A few years ago I was given an award by an organization for whom I speak every October. It’s called the Extra Mile Award, for folks who have stuck with them for ten years. That was easy. I love the organization, for what it does for minorities (helps support them to finish their PhDs). Being in the presence of these brilliant, capable kids is one of the great highlights of my year. The Southern Regional Education Board ( been putting kids through advanced institutions for a very long time. That’s the very definition of good work.

Please. There’s nothing above and beyond about what I do. I am delighted that these kids like my program well enough to keep wanting me back. That’s reward enough.

It’s now been nearly 16 years. This close-to-Halloween event is the candy in my bucket. On Friday night, I sit in the huge audience for hours and hours, listening to the stories of how these remarkable people nailed their degree. They are about to head into the academic world (or so we hope) to make that community more minority-friendly. Some will be whisked away to industry research facilities.

All are hugely inspirational.

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I get paid the princely sum of $300 for three days of my time. Not exactly something to write home about. But the kids are. Their stories are.

Imagine hearing stories — real life stories- of courage, perseverance, bravery, guts, and determination- hour after hour. People whose families have survived gang shootings, poverty, loss, unimaginable strife and trouble. There on the stage stands the young man or woman, holding their diploma. No CGI. No thrilling emotional music. Just raw emotion and intense gratitude.

What a wakeup call. You see why I go every year. More motivational than any Tony Robbins talk. Not. Even. Close.

While the award, which is nice, sits on the top shelf in my office (gathering dust, but still), it’s a fine reminder of how our shelves and walls can be carpeted with acknowledgements. What they mean to us varies a great deal. This particular one says far less about me than it does about the quality of this organization which changes lives. This is what matters to me- not the award, but being asked back to engage with America’s future.

The honor is mine. I don’t need a plaque to be motivated to come back every year.

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In a world where so many bang their chests like banshees calling attention to themselves, most of these kids will go quietly to their new destinations, stake out critical territory and start giving back. Living an above and beyond life.

One young man whom I met at this conference some many years ago now works in the diplomatic core and is stationed in Ghana. Others stay connected with me on Linked In and are doing organizational development work. Many more are touching kids’ lives all over the country. The world. They are creating a safer, more welcoming space for minorities to achieve their degrees, providing role models.

I get to be a a very small part of that.

So what does above and beyond really look like?

Here, just for chuckles, to replace reading the Cheerios box:

And this, posted on Linked In just a while ago:

Both are as funny as they are fake. In today’s MeFirst world, lots of us want to be the hero carted off the playing field on our buddies’ shoulders. We want to be Rudy, the last Notre Dame player to be carried off field in the early 1970s. The wholesale desire to be that guy or gal completely disregards where we can, and often do, make the largest contributions.

It’s not all about you. It’s about all of us. Being a very small contributor in a very large effort to transform the landscape of the American college classroom has given me the kind of deep satisfaction that no standing ovation could ever do. That’s a passing feeling. Being a part of SREB is an ongoing engagement that keeps right on giving.

Are you willing to go all out for a cause? Are you willing to be part of something larger, which makes a big difference in the society at large?

Rather than accumulate accolades, I’d rather simply be included in something which is adding value to us all. The true accolades go to the kids and young adults doing the work, and the dedicated staff at SREB who put in yeoman’s work to get these people through their programs.

I’m just along for the ride.