Pick up a variety of comics today, and you’re bound to see someone with superpowers–whether they’ve been bitten by a radioactive spider or subjected to gamma or cosmic rays. None of these things have ever happened to me, thankfully, but would you believe that I still consider myself a superhero? If Batman–who has no superpowers to speak of, either–can call himself a superhero, then I see no reason why I can’t do the same. If we take a good look at what a superhero really is, I think we’ll find that more of us are superheroes than we realize. As a community college professor, if I can help students realize that they are more than they ever thought they could be–that they, too, are superheroes in their own way–then I can help them see what they have to offer to their community. Teaching is a calling, and it was my love of comic books that helped to call me to teach.
I didn’t study comic books in school, and I never took comic books as a serious topic of academic study until my junior year in college. In fact, I often hid the fact that I read comics at all. Too often we live constantly concerned about what other people will think of us, and so we hide some part of ourselves from the world for fear that they will laugh at us, and ridicule us, for the very thing we love to do the most. This may be one of the reasons that superheroes have secret identities–to protect not just their loved ones but themselves as well. I remember how surprised I was to learn that there was a class in college entirely devoted to the study of comic books and graphic novels, and when I learned that the Chair of the English department was teaching it, I was dumbfounded. It had never occurred to me that comic books and their longer counterparts, graphic novels, were worthy of academic study, but here was an actual, distinguished professor teaching comics, and it opened my eyes to an entire world of possibility. Suddenly, I understood what my place in the world was and what I could do for the world. Because I had learned how to see the hidden value in something that I had considered nothing more than an hobby, I realized that I could teach others how to see the hidden value in the things that they loved. My father once told me that if you truly love what you do, you’ll never really work a day in your life, and I have found that to be true. I love to teach, so I don’t really feel like I’m “working.” That’s the life I want for my students as well–a life doing what they love.
What is it that I do for my community? I see myself as showing students how to be the best versions of themselves. Too often we hide the truest, most exciting part of ourselves. As an educator, I see my role as helping students to see, just as I once did, that to be the best version of themselves that they can be, they need to throw off the shackles of fear of other people’s expectations, embrace the things that help them interact with others, and shine their lights on the world. The more we can be ourselves without fear, the more we have to offer to our families, our community, and ourselves.
Superpowers do not change who a person is; they simply make us more of who we already are. Most of us believe that we can’t be superheroes unless we have superpowers, but Batman has taught us that that’s simply not true. You can be a superhero without superpowers, as long as you do super things with what you have and always stay true to yourself. By reading comics or other forms of literature, we can gain new ideas and new perspectives. As a professor, I love helping students become more of who they already are. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the lightbulb turn on, to see students stand just a little bit taller, to see them become just a little bit more sure of themselves and their abilities. That’s what life’s all about–believing in yourself and what you can do so that you can start to share your abilities with the community around you, and making the world a better place, one superhero at a time.