Inspiration can come in many forms.
A few weeks ago, it came in the person of a former Rock Falls Middle School student who returned to his alma mater to speak about who inspired him.
Justin Bennett, 40, has made a great life for himself.
After graduating from Rock Falls High School in 1998, Bennett joined the Air Force, where he got his “first taste of information technology.”
Bennett became hooked. He began studying information technology, first at the Community College of the Air Force, then at Park University, and then at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, where he earned associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, respectively.
A 2016 graduate of the Small Business Administration’s Emerging Leaders Program, Bennett is president and CEO of Geodata IT in St. Louis. The 5-year-old company deals with information technology and geography information systems solutions.
But Bennett’s career might never have gotten off the ground had he not been inspired by his former principal, Jeff Brown.
As Bennett recalls, “Mr. Brown simply told me that I could do more.”
Bennett needed the encouragement. His parents had to struggle to make ends meet, the boy was expected to work outside the home from an early age, and his educational support system was lacking.
But with Principal Brown’s words burning in his ears, Bennett decided he could do more.
He could stay involved in school.
He could keep up with his academics.
And he could learn how to translate persistence in the classroom into a good career.
Bennett spoke to teachers at Rock Falls Middle School at the invitation of Principal Kyle Ackman for the purpose of connecting teachers with his success story, and the role played by a supportive educator in it.
As Bennett said, “I chose to be the author of my own story, and I use my story and experience to help shape others.
“I challenge you to be just a little better; maybe be the person that helps students live their dreams.”
Encouragement need not come only from principals and teachers, but from parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, neighbors and anyone else who cares about the next generation.
Encouragement can keep a student going through tough times, until something clicks, until the desire to learn catches fire.
When a student begins to connect the dots, when the light goes on – this is something I like to do, this is how I can use my education – the result can be life-changing.
It happened to Justin Bennett.
We join Bennett in hoping it happens this year to many more students across the Sauk Valley.