As the parent of a 9- and 12- year- old, superheroes have surrounded me in recent years. I’m not talking about watching a few movies or picking up some random trivia or occasionally eating a Marvel- themed yogurt squeezie. I’m talking about intense action figure battles; regular discussions and speculation about individual characters; deep dives into specific qualities, relationships, powers, weapons, and personalities; and more than the occasional role-playing battle that spills out of the house and into the yard (maybe even once into the street, to the utter terror of an elderly neighbor who thought she’d met her end at the hands of three masked figures shooting arrows and screaming about the honor of Valhalla).
I have come to appreciate that while superheroes are pervasive in our culture on billboards, movie placards, and cereal boxes, real heroes have the same attributes, yet they walk among us.
Heroes come in a wide assortment of shapes and sizes.
My hero is a 4’11” spit fire from East Tennessee named Nancy Beane. Nancy is retiring this year from The Westminster Schools in Atlanta after a 40+ year career as a teacher, mentor, leader, and counselor. Don’t let her stature deceive you. She has more wisdom, fight, savvy, and skill in her right pointer finger (one she uses often to emphasize a statement while holding her reading glasses) than the normal human possesses in their entire body.
Heroes know their imperfections and have found strength and perspective in humility.
Whether she is giving a speech, talking in the hallway between meetings, accepting an award, or discussing a topic over a meal, Nancy is always self-deprecating. She’s quick to point out what she does not know or who is more of an expert in a particular subject. However, I’ve come to realize you should always listen a little closer when she says, “Well, I probably don’t have a clue about this, but ….” Or “Now, I’m not sure I know exactly…” That’s when she drops real knowledge. It is kind of like Barry Allen speculating about speed. She knows. She doesn’t just have a clue—she has the entire case solved already.
Heroes use their strength and power to help others.
As far as I know, she does not have laser vision in those glasses or a Batmobile or superhuman strength. Instead, Nancy’s power is her access, privilege, and voice. She works at one of the most highly regarded private schools in the South. She has been the president of every organization I’m part of on the state, regional, and national level. Her husband, John, is a successful lawyer (and a hero in his own right). The people she meets and influences on a daily basis in her neighborhood, at local restaurants, and in her college counseling office run the city (cue Oliver Queen). It would be easy– I’m talking about Sunday morning strolling the beach easy—for her to just live in the status quo.
That’s not Nancy. She is a champion. She is an advocate– for her students, for younger professionals in the college admission and counseling profession, for women (especially as a proud Agnes Scott alumna), for colleagues who might otherwise be overlooked or undervalued, for anyone in whom she sees potential. She may have to pull a stool up to the lectern in order to reach the microphone, but once she has it, you can be assured she is going to use that opportunity to skillfully advance causes, give credit to others, encourage students, and skillfully incorporate wisdom, wit, and calls to action.
Heroes don’t look for credit.
Instead, their reward and satisfaction come from watching the people they serve have opportunities to grow and thrive. A few years ago, I watched Nancy plant a seed with a lawmaker in D.C. that ultimately became an education bill benefiting military veterans. Walking out I had no idea what we’d started, but she did. She always does. I think her comment was simply, “That ought to give him something to think about.”
Because that’s what heroes do. They give us something to think about. They see in us what we cannot or do not see in ourselves. As I look back, it was Nancy who first encouraged me to get involved with leadership in professional organizations. “Rick, you should consider putting your name in the hat for SACAC Board.” Consider is Nancy speak for do it. Four years later, she called again. “You need to really think about getting involved on the national level.” When Nancy calls, you answer. Often her calls were about her students. “Now, let me tell you about this boy. He’s really something.” I’m guessing hundreds of admission deans around the country have heard Nancy say those exact words. Always advocating. Always talking about how great others are.
Heroes are in the right place at the right time.
Superheroes have an advantage. They can fly or use super speed or swing from buildings to the arrive on the scene. Real heroes just show up. They call. They text. They don’t miss the party or the funeral or the big day. One of Nancy’s greatest powers is being present. She is at the games, shows, meetings, graduations, and celebrations. She calls when she knows you are hurting. She always picks up her phone, or is crazy quick to call back. “Sorry. I was trying to find the darn thing…” She always asks about family first. She is a hugger.
Heroes pay a severe price.
I am convinced this woman does not sleep. She has sacrificed countless days, weeks, and years serving students and colleagues. Showing up and being available sounds good in leadership books—it’s in there because it’s so difficult to live out. Over the years, Nancy’s advocacy for the under-served has at times drawn criticism from friends, colleagues, and others in power. Using her voice and speaking up has come at a relational cost. This is the price of doing the right thing, of being a champion. But heroes don’t shrink from the fight, and she has only become more invested and committed as her power has grown.
Heroes change the world.
Unlike superheroes, Nancy (to my knowledge) has not moved a literal mountain. But one by one she’s spoken into the lives of thousands of students, professionals, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. One day at a time. One relationship at a time.
In a life that is often challenging, in a time that is extremely unknown and uncertain, in a world that has plenty of darkness and difficulty, we need heroes like Nancy Beane. They inspire us. They challenge us to live more selflessly. They come alongside us, lift us up, and believe in us, even when we are having difficulty believing in ourselves. Heroes beget heroes.
Like all good superheroes, Nancy is known by many names and titles: Mrs. Beane, mom, president, teacher, and counselor to name a few. But those who have had the honor of spending time with her know her true identity: she is the real Wonder Woman!
Congratulations on a heroic career, Nancy. We love you!
If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.