September 11, 2016
An open letter to the McGill-Toolen Catholic High School’s Hall of Fame committee…
A life without fame can be a good life, but fame without a life is no life at all.
– Clive James (1939-)
An Australian author, critic, broadcaster, poet, translator and memoirist
In 2013, I had the audacity, some might say, to nominate myself to the McGill-Toolen Catholic High School’s Hall of Fame. It’s one of two halls of fame that I have an interest in being nominated into. The other being where I graduated from college, Auburn University. Rather than sit around and wait for someone to recognize my many achievements and nominate me, I took the initiative to do it myself. To my surprise, the application asked questions that I thought were irrelevant given the specific nature of this application. The hall of fame committee wanted to know if I were still “Catholic” and which “parish I was an active member of”. I said, “No” to the first question while leaving the second one blank. At 17, I no longer identified myself with being “Catholic” and I’m not alone! Upon graduating from McGill-Toolen, I stopped attending mass except to attend an occasional wedding or funeral. I no longer attend funerals, except my own. Neither question had anything to do with one’s personal accomplishments as a student, as an athlete or much less one’s life after high school, what is the point of this organization?
The only two questions worth asking is whether the named candidate was a graduate of the school and if he or she had met and exceeded the criteria for joining the school’s hall of fame. Being a non-Catholic student who graduated was automatic grounds for having one’s application dismissed. That summer, I received my first rejection letter stating that my application wasn’t quite good enough given the outstanding class that had been selected. However, I was informed that the committee would keep my original application on file another year for reconsideration. Wikipedia defines “hall of fame” as a hall, wall, or walk of fame is a list of individuals, achievements, or animals, usually chosen by a group of electors, to mark their fame in their field.
Due to having dyslexia, my academic performance was and always been rather unremarkable. I struggled with reading, writing and public speaking. I made mostly “C’s”. My one and only goal entering McGill-Toolen, as a freshman, was to avoid summer school at all cost. I passed on getting involved in other extracurricular activities and clubs. In my mind, it was just more work. I never made the honor roll nor was I invited to join an honor society. I played freshman football and I was the only player on the team to play on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Following a shoulder injury that would require surgery, I quit football to eliminate one distraction and to hopefully improve my grades. Like I said my time at McGill-Toolen was unexceptional. That’s what makes my accomplishments as an adult so remarkable.
My one professional goal was to become a politician via a career in law. However, my grades weren’t any better in college. By my junior and senior years, I had a 2.5 GPA. I didn’t even bother taking the LSAT or applying to law schools. After receiving my bachelor’s degree at Auburn, I entered the business world first for myself and then working in the corporate world. However, the work as a salesperson didn’t match my interests. I never stayed anywhere for more than a year and a half before being asked to leave, getting fired or quitting. I worked for seven companies in nine years. Out of great despair, I reluctantly returned to graduate school at the age of 35. With almost a year under my belt and making all “A’s”, I got sick. I was kicked out of school. This brought an end to another career in counseling. The two things that I took away from graduate school were that I could write better and that I wasn’t afraid to challenge my professors with my own ideas.
In 2007, I started my new life as a philosopher and writer. Today, I’ve written over 120 political and social essays while building a global audience of 18,000 contacts in some twenty countries. Over 11,000 are top physicians, professors and researchers teaching at 45 world-class universities, in thirteen countries. Among them are some 2,000 professors at Harvard University, as well as, faculties from the other 7 Ivy League schools. My work has been recognized for its originality, insight and for being provocative.
My commentaries have generated a reaction from U.S. President Barack Obama, Hon. David M. Walker, former U.S. Comptroller General and head of the General Accountability Office (GAO), (1998-2008), former U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), U.S. Representative Jo Bonner (R-AL), former Alabama State Senator Ben Brooks (R-Mobile), car dealer Joe Bullard, Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren (2009, 3x), Harvard Business Professor Michael E. Porter, Harvard Medical School Chief of Psychology Dennis Norman, Ed.D, UNC-Chapel Hill Professor John D. Kasarda, Professor of Economics Alison Booth, Australian National University, Jan Love, Professor and Dean of World Politics at Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Dipak C. Jain, Dean and The INSEAD Chaired Professor of Marketing, INSEAD, Pekka [Hietala], Professor of Finance, INSEAD, Professor Karestan [C. Koenen], Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, Cindy Diogo, C.O.T., Clinical Care Coordinator for Oculoplastics and Ocular Oncology, Scheie Eye Institute, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Steve LeVine, Contributing Editor, Foreign Policy magazine, F. David Mathews, President, Kettering Foundation, Law Professor David Rosenbloom, New York University School of Law, Associate Professor and Director Jake Lynch, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, The University of Sydney, Norman Fischer, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Clark-Atlanta University
My work has been praised, shared and even quoted. Two of my essays have been posted on the Huffington Post in (2012) The Huffington Post: “Are we trying to cure the infection or the fever?” and The Huffington Post: “At the Heart of Climate Change”. I’ve gone on to produce films on a number of local and mental health issues. Movie Director Patrick Creadon praised my film, “In the company of geniuses”. I proposed moving the Mobile Regional Airport back to its original home at Brookley Field while turning the old golf course, Gulf Pines, into a world-class park sitting on Mobile Bay. The campaign led to 500 signatures and two TV interviews and one newspaper interview. This year, I launched The Live Oak Forum with two speakers and I delivered two speeches on my experience with mental illness. Just recently, I’ve been asked to give another one in late October.
By any standard, this would be the makings of a pretty good career and I’m only 45 years old. I have blazed a trail across the country and around the world while widening the trail with every new essay. All this came about after much failure, sickness, hard work and struggle. Keep in mind not one of my classmates have pursued this line of work or had to put their life back together after experiencing a nervous breakdown. This wasn’t a scripted life, but this is a life I’ve created and love when everything else failed. When I entered the workforce, I gave up on my dream of a life in politics.
Today, I feel closer to my original goal then at any time in my life. I’ve built an audience that’s local, national, as well as, global. I have contacts across Iowa, home to the first presidential caucus and New Hampshire, home to the first presidential primary. I write world leaders, ambassadors, Fortune 500 CEOs, COBs, major foundations, governors and lawmakers, media executives and their talent, as well as, top university presidents. I continue to dream big even when my own high school thinks so small of my story and me. I ask them to name one person on the school’s hall of fame who has achieved what I’ve just listed given a similar start. They can’t! Not one graduate with honors or without or a member of the hall of fame is known in at Harvard College, at the Harvard Business School, at the Harvard Kennedy School, at the Harvard Law School, at the Harvard Medical School and at the Harvard School of Public Health including by Harvard University President Drew G. Faust. The last time I checked they were known as the best! After eight years and sharing over 100 essays with Harvard faculty, I have nothing left to prove. To my surprise, I recently received my third rejection letter from this same hall of fame committee to my original application.
In 2002, and at the age of 32, I began writing, for the first time ever, following my first hospitalization where I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Sensing a neurological change, I took an online IQ test where I scored a 142, up from 100 in elementary school. As best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell once said about IQs and genius [mine] may not be the highest, but it’s good enough as my above list of achievements demonstrates. I put this story together in my original application, did you not read it? The McGill-Toolen Catholic High School’s Hall of Fame committee has chosen to reject me and my accomplishments for the past three years when the rest of the world has chosen to embrace me and my work for the past nine. Who’s got it all wrong – this committee or the world?
To think that Jesus Christ and McGill-Toolen would operate in such exclusivities.
Ted Burnett, class of ‘90
500 Lincoln Street
Daphne, AL 36526