Even teachers can be inspired

January 3, 2011 — by Lillian Chen and Brandon Judoprasetijo

As a student at Aragon High School in San Mateo back in the 1970s, Caitlan Sullivan remembers the day congresswoman Jackie Speier came to speak about public safety and risk with her arm in a sling.

Having been shot just a few months earlier at an airport tarmac during the 1978 Jim Jones cult investigation in Guyana, Speier had managed to survive by playing dead while bleeding to death.

Through Sullivan’s eyes, these actions had deemed Speier as a hero she could look up to.

“I was amazed at how elegant yet tough she was,” Sullivan said. “She was super feminine with pricey clothing and I immediately doubted her intelligence. As she spoke about her life I realized how wrong I was.”

Along with Speier’s involvement in the Jim Jones case, another story raised Sullivan’s regard of Speier.

After Speier’s husband had lost his life when a driver with no license or registration and a car with no brakes crashed into his car, Speier realized that action must be taken. In response to her husband’s tragic accident, Speier convinced the government to pass tougher legislation regarding driving restrictions in California.

“At that time girls in the Bay Area were encouraged to become doctors and lawyers,” Sullivan said.
“Listening to her I realized the value of public service and helping people as she tried to help the cult members in Guyana.”

“Her story meant so much to me because she weathers tragedy with such grace and does something about injustice,” Sullivan said. “She’s grace under fire.”

After listening to Speier’s stories of her life’s tragedies, Sullivan knew that she had found her hero, a woman to whom she gave the fitting title, “lady justice.” The term was especially meaningful for Sullivan due to the precariousness of the world she grew up in.

“I grew up in a time when the Bay Area had some scary elements—for instance, the Zodiac Killer, the Patty Hearst kidnapping, and the Jim Jones tragedy, ” Sullivan said.

Although Sullivan prizes Speier’s resilience despite her misfortunes, English teacher Suzanne Herzman holds close to her heart a hero with an adventurous personality—Indiana Jones.

“Indiana Jones reminds me to be my own stunt double,” Herzman said. “He has fears, but he faces them.”
Herzman has looked up to Indiana Jones ever since 1982 when she had watched “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Inspired not only by his glorious victories, Herzman looks up to the fact that Indiana Jones has faults as well. It is Jones’ persistence to want to do what is right that inspires Herzman.
“There are so many truly heroic people in the world. I admire them, but I know I could never live up to Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mother Teresa,” Herzman said. “There’s something about Indy. He has faults, and he has to keep his ego in check. But ultimately, he wants to do what is right.”
As a constant reminder, Herzman owns an Indiana Jones action figure that accompanies her on numerous sorts of adventures such as a Shakespeare Camp in Ashland, Ore., skydiving, hiking in Ireland, and with her during the summer in Senegal. Her action figure even resides on the side of the podium where students conquer their fear of public speaking.