Yesterday was the final session of the Heroes and Heroism undergraduate honors seminar I taught this J-term. The three hours were devoted to presentations by each of the nine students on the final papers they wrote for me.
Their assignment was to write a paper on a public figure other than one of those we discussed in class that met the definition of heroism the student developed based on our class discussion. I also asked their paper to also include discussion of a non-public figure or a fictional character who met their definition.
Reflecting the students’ different majors and interests, we had a presentation on a broad range of heroes that included, among others, two Roosevelts (Teddy and Eleanor), Fr. Damion Molokai, Emma Watson, George Bailey (from It’s a Wonderful Life), and Hazel (from Watership Down).
One of the heroes presented by one student was someone I was not familiar with, Sigurd Olson, who, as it turns out, is a beloved nature writer and was an influential conservationist who played an important role in preserving a number of national parks and wilderness areas, including the Boundary Waters areas in the northern part of Minnesota, where I have enjoyed hiking and kayaking.
Olson was a deeply spiritual person who understood that we need, in the words of his son, places away from the ordinary distractions of everyday life where we can be quiet and listen – to listen not so much to the leaves and the birds but to “the real.”
Here is a short video of Olson that my student showed as part of her presentation. It resonated deeply with me; perhaps it will with you as well.