We have a problem with role models in this country.
It’s not that we don’t have good ones; we just don’t pay as much attention to folks worth emulating as we do those who get more media attention, make more money, or hit more homeruns.
We tend to fawn over hunky movie stars or sexy starlets. I remember young girls swooning (Do young girls swoon anymore?) over the Beatles. I’ve seen kids line up to have their favorite professional athlete sign a cap, a ball or a game program and later make excuses for the bad behavior (drunk driving, drug use, physical abuse, etc.) that many of our modern day heroes assume is their due. Not all athletes, actors and rock stars are bad, of course, but few deserve the idol worship our society bestows upon them.
And we have better role models: Soldiers, policemen, and other public safety officers who risk their lives to protect us; ordinary citizens who go to work, raise families, pay taxes and are kind to their neighbors; and the folks who just do what they can to help someone else who needs a boost.
These folks are worthy of emulation. I meet lots of them on farms and ranches I visit in my work. But recently I was honored to meet a man I consider one of the greatest role models of the 20th century.
When Janice Person, of Monsanto Co., invited me to the 95th birthday celebration for Dr. Norman Borlaug, I was a little star-struck. I can’t think of anyone in agriculture I’d rather meet. At 95, Dr. Borlaug seems a humble man more interested in seeing someone carry on his work, the Green Revolution that saved as many as a billion people from starvation, than inflating his own ego.
His accomplishments are legion. His wheat breeding work in the 1960s and 1970s created varieties capable of producing more grain under diverse growing conditions. Most of the wheat we grow now, a scientist told me, comes from Dr. Borlaug’s work. He won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom.
He doesn’t get around as well as he used to, but Dr. Borlaug can still inspire a crowd. He spoke for about five minutes at his celebration and if there was a dry eye in the room it wasn’t near me. He challenged the audience to fight to defeat hunger and misery and to integrate agricultural disciplines to solve problems. He said animal science and plant science have to find common ground on which to build a more productive agriculture.
He said feeding a rapidly growing world population demands that we produce more food on fewer acres and without destroying the environment.
He said he was honored that Monsanto will sponsor an International Scholars Program, investing $10 million over five years to identify and support graduate students who will work in wheat and rice breeding in developing countries. The program was created in Borlaug’s honor, along with revered rice breeder Dr. Henry Beachell.
Before the celebration, I told people I was going to meet Dr. Norman Borlaug. I was excited, but not many knew who he was. His Nobel Peace Prize came back in the 1970s, so he’s not in the news a lot. I educated them as best I could.
I was able to chat briefly with Dr. Borlaug. I stood in line for the opportunity, eager as a kid with a baseball in sight of Derek Jeter. But I sought no autograph. I, like most everyone else in the room, just wanted a chance to tell Dr. Borlaug how much he means to agriculture and how much he means to our world.
We don’t need a better role model.