Underdogs on top
Q: One did time in prison. Another was raised by migrant farmworkers. All came from humble origins. One recent night, Oprah Winfrey, Merle Haggard, dancer Bill T. Jones, Broadway composer Jerry Herman and a guy named Paul McCartney received one of the world's highest awards for artists: the Kennedy Center honors. What does this tell us, if anything, about the will to succeed, the importance of personal history and the theme of the American Dream?
People stand in long lines to see the Hope diamond at the Smithsonian here in Washington, DC. There are plenty of stunning and large diamonds, but this one is prized not only for its size and beauty but also its distinctive history.
When we see or hear about others who have struggled, it somehow makes our own struggles pale in comparison. It makes us feel ashamed that we dare to complain when we don't have nearly as many challenges. On the other hand, this year's Kennedy Center honors are the superstars of underdogs. These are people who clearly started from a low point but whose talents were so overwhelming they had no choice but to excel.
I suspect whether they achieved superstar status or not, Paul McCartney, Merle Haggard and Jerry Herman would be composing and singing; Oprah Winfrey would be entertaining; and Bill T. Jones would be choreographing someone's movements. These are a super-special class of artists who are truly unique.
In America, it's possible to come from nothing and succeed or to have advantages at the start of life and excel. However, it's the rare individual that begins life as an underdog yet exceeds not only the world's expectations but their own. I imagine that for these folks, they must have been born with it and no amount of setback, misfortune, or tragedy could have stopped them from fulfilling their promise.
There is no way to explain the fortitude and profound success of this year's Kennedy Center honorees -- Oprah, Paul McCartney, Bill T. Jones, Merle Haggard, and Jerry Herman. No one has to know these talents personally to observe how naturally they overcame their adverse personal histories.
In a recent article in the Washington Post, Reliable Source authors Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger wrote that it was atypical that the honorees attended the fundraiser dinner that occurs after the main awards ceremony. As they reported, previous honorees generally opt out of attending, probably because it entails schmoozing with the well-heeled common folk.
This demonstrates to me how "regular" these superstars feel about themselves and that their talent is just something to which they are born. These are people everyone wants to be near because talent this enormous and this astonishing from such underdogs is as rare as the Hope diamond.