By Scott Westerman
I’m usually pretty good with a camera, but the emotion involved in snapping a photograph of my 91 year old father standing in front of the school building that now bears his name made getting the shot a challenge. Tears of gratitude kept getting in the way.
Dad’s entire professional life has been dedicated to education. Opening new vistas of discovery and inspiring young people to unlock their potential has been his passion, first as a high school teacher, then as a school administrator and ultimately as Dean of the College of Education at Eastern Michigan University. In 2015, the Ann Arbor Public Schools recognized his body of work by naming “The W. Scott Westerman, Jr. Pre-School and Family Center” in his honor.
As I thought about how to frame this picture worth a thousand words, Dad’s mantra kept coming to the fore: Learn everything you can, and pass it on!
This is the motivation behind my new book, a collection of essays about the character of human achievement and our desire to share it with others.
The progress of humanity is built on a foundation of knowledge. The quantity and quality of our lives have improved dramatically because dedicated souls crafted a pyramid of wisdom that enabled us to see farther, work smarter and serve a greater good. All of this happened for one reason. Men and women of vision amassed a treasure trove of intellectual capital and passed it on.
Some contributed a portion of their abundance toward funding the edifices, the tools and the manpower that drive innovation. Others focused their intellect to confront complex problems. And many more became foot soldiers, directly passing on what they learn as teachers, mentors, parents and friends.
The common thread that runs through the character of the authentically great is their desire to give others the means to follow in their footsteps. Although they may sometimes be hard to see, brass rings are always out there. It’s up to us to recognize them, to grab the opportunity they represent, to achieve, and to add our own dabs of knowledge to the tapestry of life so that other might follow suit.
This is the message I hope to have imparted in “Pass It On”, observations from a lifetime devoted to studying, success, happiness and all the challenges that come with it. The book begins with insights from three people I admire, my boss, Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon, my good friend, MSU Athletic Director, Mark Hollis, and my mentor in the space of human motivation, the extraordinary author, coach and speaker, Erik Qualman. From there, we explore three dimensions of life: the secret sauce for success in college, discovering your purpose and turning it into a productive career, and a conversation about the elements that so mix to create an exceptional human being. These timeless ideals are what we MSU folks associate with the best Spartans we know, but they apply no matter what your background or where you went to school.
Success is always a team effort. Many people contributed ideas to “Pass It On”. Some have become household words. Others are less well known. All have found a way to meld experience, sweat, failure, tenacity and compassion into a force for positive change.
They all share something else in common, the indescribable jubilance that comes from watching others benefit from their work.
Our photo shoot at the W. Scott Westerman Jr. Pre-School and Family Center was complete. I helped Dad back into our car. He moves more slowly now. As our bodies begin to fail us we are forced into a state of mindfulness that can reveal the beauty that is often hidden among the moments we formerly allowed to pass by too quickly. We both found ourselves contemplating the building that would forever bear his name and thought about the hundreds of children who would start their own journey of discovery there.
Access to an excellent education is the ultimate competitive advantage. Study after study shows that those who learn are less likely to destroy. They are most likely to see the future as something bright with opportunity, taking personal responsibility for finding ways to add value and modeling productive behaviors for others to emulate.
I hope that these are the lessons you will glean from “Pass It On”, that you will take the meaning of its title to heart and make it possible for at least one other person in your circle of influence to know the excitement of discovery… and the pure joy that comes from leaving the world in a better place than you found it.