When you see a successful person, do you ever think about who helped them become great? Very often, someone who has accomplished great things in life had someone—a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a friend—who believed in them and helped guide them to greatness.
Here are the stories of six famous Americans and the people around them who expected them to be successful—and who kept reminding them to stick with it and reach for the stars. Share these stories with your own kids as examples of high expectations and the value of hard work.
Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has won 16 gold medals. But as a child he had a very hard time focusing. He was teased and bullied in school and was diagnosed with ADHD. But Michael’s mother, Debbie, a single working mom raising three children, stuck with her son to get him the extra help he needed in school. And when they discovered his talent for swimming, she helped him stay focused, be a good sport—and go for the gold!
President Barack Obama
“What is best in me, I owe to her,” wrote President Barack Obama about his mother, S. Ann Soetoro. When Obama was barely two years old, his single mother returned to college and collected food stamps to help support the family. But she always had high expectations for her son. She used to wake him at 4 a.m. every morning to give him English lessons, always reminding him of the value of hard work.
The first Latina judge on the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor was raised in the housing projects in New York. Her father died when she was nine, and her mother worked six days a week as a nurse to support the family. Sotomayor’s mother, Celina, always reminded her children of the value of education and even bought them a set of encyclopedias to encourage their studies. When she was chosen for the Supreme Court, Sotomayor said, “I stand on the shoulders of countless people, yet there is one extraordinary person who is my life’s inspiration—that person is my mother.”
Beyoncé Knowles showed great talent as a young child. Her mother and father, Tina (a costume designer and hair stylist) and Matthew Knowles (a medical equipment salesperson) so believed in her skills that when Beyoncé was just 14, her father quit his job to manage her singing group and create a “boot camp” for the group’s training. Quitting his job meant the family lost half its income, but her parents didn’t give up. They had the group rehearse in their backyards and in Tina’s salon, and Tina designed their costumes. The family’s hard work paid off when Beyoncé got a record contract with Columbia Records and became the world-famous singer, songwriter, and actress she is today.
Helen Keller was deaf and blind, but that didn’t stop her from learning to read and write, to graduate from college, and to become a world-famous speaker and author. But Keller owed a lot of her success to her tutor, Anne Sullivan, who first helped Keller learn to read by pressing the sign-language letters into Keller’s palm. When Keller went to college, Ann Sullivan went with her to every class, spelling out all the lectures and assignments into Keller’s hand.
Dr. Temple Grandin
Dr. Temple Grandin is a world famous animal scientist, but she didn’t speak a word until she was three and a half years old. Grandin was diagnosed with autism, and her parents were told that she should be put in a mental institution and that she would never have a productive life. They didn’t give up on her, though, and found supportive teachers and therapists who helped her get an education. Grandin went on to get her Ph.D. and became an inventor and leader in the humane treatment of animals.