Not just anyone can be named Kansan of the year.
And for 2019, golf legend in-the-making Gary Woodland and congressman-turned-top-diplomat Mike Pompeo demonstrate the grit, tenacity and talent needed to clinch the honor. It’s not just about being famous — otherwise Paul Rudd would win every year, and he’s already had his turn.
It’s about answering the call, about excelling in one's field of expertise.
Woodland won the U.S. Open, played for the United States in the Presidents Cup and added twins to his family. Pompeo is wrapping up his first full year as U.S. secretary of state and being courted assiduously to run for Kansas’ open Senate seat in the new year.
But they’re far from the only ones. This year’s assortment of Distinguished Kansans includes a scientist, astronaut, novelist and 18-year-old Harvard graduate now studying law at Washburn, just to name a few.
Feel overwhelmed yet?
It’s tempting to draw overarching conclusions or attempt to create a grand unified theory of success from these stories. But each person and each career are unique. They are each the product of a special set of circumstances. These individuals are exceptional, which means they are exceptions.
On the other hand, we can’t ignore the simplest virtue of hard work. Everyone has differing reserves of talent. Everyone has a differing personal history, But regardless, each one of our Kansans of the Year and Distinguished Kansans has dug deep in his or her chosen field. They have spent late nights devoted to their goals. They have put in the hours, dedicated the time, and seen the results.
It can sound old fashioned to praise hard work these days. We now know, for instance, that systemic factors influence success across our society. Addressing these systemic issues has become a rallying cry for philanthropists and politicians alike.
But we still have the world we are given. Until these pernicious systemic challenges of inequality and inequity are resolved, we have to make our uncertain ways as best we can.
We may not all become a Gary Woodland or a Mike Pompeo. We may not make earth-shattering scientific discoveries or write acclaimed novels. All of us can, however, make the most possible of what we’re given. We can buckle down, take the time and accomplish something magnificent.
That’s the promise, the example set by these talented few. Let’s all of us resolve this next year to be our own, personal Kansans of the year.