The real person of the year

Time Magazine’s selection of Barack Obama as its person of the year epitomized how clueless some Americans are about what it truly takes to be recognized as a person of the year. It is so easy to look at someone with a famous name or widespread popularity, whether it be Obama or John McCain, and feel that such people in positions of political power are the primary agents of change for countless other Americans.

It’s time to end this elitist thinking. Being a person of the year should not be a popularity contest. It should not be a cheerleading exhibition. And it most definitely should not be a way to push forth a political agenda for the purposes of feeling good about yourself.

Luckily, the individuals who deserve to be recognized as the real people of the year ‘- who actually have already made a difference in this world ‘- don’t need magazine covers to accomplish their noble goals.

Consider, for instance, people who have all achieved more individually by themselves than Obama, McCain, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin have accomplished the whole year.

Like the real military leaders in 2008.

Like General David Petraues, who heroically led the successful troop surge the past two years, contributing greatly dramatic decrease in violence in Iraq.

Like the American service men and women who braved terrorists, roadside bombs, improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades and life-and-death situations daily to help stabilize a hellish environment.

Like Junior Officers in the U.S. military, who withstand unbearable heat and overbearing military equipment to hunt down Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and insurgents in Iraq.

Like the Sunni Muslims who turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq who, after three or so years of sacrifice and bloodshed, have been able to protect innocent Iraqis from the thuggery and viciousness of terrorists.

Like the real educators in 2008.

Like Michelle Rhee, the no-nonsense head of Washington D.C. public schools who has overturned the politically correct educational establishment by firing bad teachers, hiring better ones, demanding higher expectations and not caving in to selfish teacher’s unions.

Like Dave Levin, one of the founders of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), charter schools which aim to keep children in school for longer hours by extending school days and shortening summer vacation times.

Like Mike Feinberg, the other founder of KIPP, who led efforts to open a school in Houston, Texas, to assist thousands of Katrina victims displaced by the hurricane and continues to be at the forefront of educational reform in this country.

Like Freeman Hrabowski, the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who has refused to fund a football team, yet has transformed UMBC into an intellectual powerhouse by starting the Meyerhoff Scholars program, which gives math and science scholarships to gifted students from low income communities

To the real dissidents in 2008.

Like former Nobel Peace Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi, the human rights lawyer from Iran and open critic of Iran‘s oppressive theocracy and flagrant disregard for women’s rights.

Like Hu Jia, the outspoken Chinese activist and blogger who highlighted China‘s blatant human rights violations during this year’s Summer Olympics.

Like Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the exiled Egyptian professor who has demanded that the United States push for political and economic liberalization in Egypt as conditionalities for USAID.

The list goes on and on.

We can talk incessantly about Obama’s soaring rhetoric or Sarah Palin’s all-American persona. Yet, the aforementioned people are just some of the countless overlooked individuals who have exhibited extraordinary integrity, perseverance, courage and commitment to a greater good, regardless of whether their actions in doing so were popular at the time.

Such real people of the year face criticism, ridicule, chastisement, verbal assaults and death threats daily. Yet the same people have accomplished something real, something substantive, something that has touched the lives of underprivileged and powerless peoples in a direct and tangible fashion.

But why do people continually get glossed over day after day, month after month and year after year? It is much easier to claim a public figure has accomplished something because of vote totals or soaring rhetoric than to make the effort to discover private individuals who actually do the gritty, dirty work necessary to help the impoverished and oppressed. Aristotle anticipated this mindset thousands of years ago when he said, ‘for the many judge by externals, since these are all they perceive.’

By all means, magazine and newspaper editors can continue to judge by their perceptions and make self-congratulatory selections for people of the year to feel good about themselves.

Fortunately for the real people on the ground, who truly do achieve results, they need neither approval nor acknowledgment from editors and politicians to actually contribute to a greater good.

Greg Collins is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]