A Passion for Excellence!
‘Karen and Jay discuss the importance of ‘excellence’ as a guiding principle in life.’
Have you ever felt an excitement to push yourself beyond the ordinary and really achieve the extraordinary? That feeling of wanting to do your very best - striving for excellence? Whether a particular project, a competition or just one of your day to day tasks. It’s a certain mindset, a way of approaching things. It’s a determination that no matter how difficult the challenge, you will rise to the occasion, figure out a solution, put in the work and ultimately succeed. Every one of us has our own unique set of talents and potential. When we commit to excellence, we have the ability to unlock that potential and be all that we possibly can be!
And, it’s interesting. Many of the endeavors where we commit ourselves to ‘excellence’ may not even strike us as extraordinary acts. We just assume that our commitment to excellence is the norm and to be expected. With this in mind, I want to tell you the story of Sgt. Jacob Kohut, a Washington DC based National Guardsman and an elementary school band teacher. Sgt. Kohut, 35, was one of the more the many troops providing security ahead of then-President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration in January. After finally having some downtime during his 12-hour shift standing guard outside the U.S. Capitol, he could have spent his lone break napping or cracking jokes with fellow National Guardsmen but Instead, he sat in the back of his Humvee, with a flute in his hands, teaching students via his laptop how to play Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
Sgt. Kohut has been in the military for 11 years as part of the 257th Army Band, playing the bassoon and saxophone. He also has been a band teacher for more than a decade, and for the past five years, he’s taught music at two Fairfax County, Virginia, schools—Canterbury Woods Elementary School in the morning and Frost Middle School in the afternoon.
When he was called up for duty, his first thought was his students. As he put it “The last thing these students need is a disruption in their teaching. I would rather teach the class, even if that means I’m tired.”
Music has always been a driving force in Kohut’s life. He was an avid saxophone player throughout high school, studied music in college, and ultimately earned his doctorate in music composition at George Mason University. “What I really wanted was to teach,” says Kohut, who is married and has a three-year-old son. “My mom, who is a single mother, was a music teacher. That’s why I do what I do, because she was such a good role model.”
His double duty has caught the attention of parents at Canterbury Woods Elementary where he teaches. “I just wanted to share how impressed I am with Dr. Kohut this week,” Susi Brittain wrote in an e‑mail to the school’s principle. “This morning he taught band online from DC, in his fatigues, which just seems so beyond the expectations of a teacher in these circumstances.”
Kohut insists he is not doing anything extraordinary. He’s simply taking care of what needs to get done. In other words, his commit to excellence has become intrinsic to all that he does.
And, what if we as a society could embrace excellence on a truly massive scale. Adopt it as core value – no matter the activity. I was recently made aware of a quote by a former U.S. Cabinet Secretary who in essence makes this point.
We must first learn to honor excellence in every socially accepted human activity, and to scorn shoddiness, however, exalted the activity. An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society that scorns plumbing and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.” John W. Gardner
Wolfeboro, NH – America’s Oldest Summer Resort
Wolfeboro, New Hampshire sits on the northern shores of Lake Winnipesaukee with a population of over 6,000 residents. This idyllic small town sees hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and is a well know vacation spot for celebrities and famous people around the world.
Founded in 1759, it is a surprisingly young town for New Hampshire. It all started when a land grant was given to four Portsmouth residents by Governor Benning Wentworth. The town was then founded and named after General Wolfe for his efforts in Quebec during the French and Indian War. The town gets in famous calling card as the oldest summer resort in the county from Wentworth’s nephew named John Wentworth who built a summer mansion retreat on then Smith Pond, now aptly called Lake Wentworth.
Even though today this town has cozy downtown shops and tourist attractions, it actually had quite the industrial past at one point being given the name “Slab Town” after all the wood products that were passing through the town on the Wolfeboro Rail Road while also dealing in a variety of other products such as clay pipes, pewter, and shoes. You would not know that from today as this peaceful town is now seen as an exclusive get-a-away for the rich and famous.
Modern Wolfeboro, ironically much like the original Wolfeborough (that’s the original spelling!) and its economy is almost entirely based on catering to tourists who wish to enjoy the close by mountains and of course the lakes! If you ever have the chance to visit you may see foreign leaders, past presidents, and TV celebrities trying to enjoy a much needed get-a-away right here in small town New Hampshire!
Halloween – A Tradition and So Much Fun!
This Sunday will mark nearly 120 years that Americans have actively and continuously been celebrating Halloween. What was once a European festival to ward off spirits in order to defend crops has become an annual American tradition for children of all ages.
I don't know about you, but I love Halloween. I love watching children get dressed up and how the community comes together and that was the purpose of the American celebrated Halloween. It was meant to bring the community together. Over time celebration has evolved and I believe in a good way, but it still holds on to its roots of bringing the community together.
The fun part of ‘Trick or Treat’ still exists today, and we offer so many different opportunities for children to get their favorite treats. There is still the ‘door to door’ approach, scouting out the favorite neighborhoods and routes. Some shopping malls offer an inside alternative so that regardless of the weather, children won’t miss out on the fun. Then something newer to the scene, ‘Trunk or Treat.’ Organizations are taking over parking lots to create a safe environment so kids can go car to car and get those holiday goodies. Pretty interesting and makes sense given traffic and safety. That's just the trick or treat side of things, what about pumpkin carving.
The idea of carving a pumpkin is not a new tradition but an old one. In fact, it wasn’t always even pumpkins that were carved, it was actually turnips. It wasn’t till immigrants came over from Europe and discovered the plentiful supply of pumpkins that it was even considered. Imagine carving a turnip, which sounds positively scary to me. On the other hand, isn’t it so much fun to carve a pumpkin and put it outside on your doorstep or in your window? Here is a fun little fact - the state that produces the greatest amount of pumpkins is Illinois and here’s another one. The largest pumpkin ever recorded was harvested in Belgium in 2016, weighing over 2600 pounds. Imagine what it would be like to carve that giant pumpkin!
So, as Halloween Weekend 2021 is now arriving, please take some time to enjoy this fun annual tradition – and especially try to use this as an opportunity to engage with your community and develop a shared sense of spirit.
Positive Profile of the Week - Jay Ruais – Serving Others
This week we are delighted to highlight a dedicated Granite Stater who is truly making a positive difference – my friend, Jay Ruais.
Jay is a New Hampshire native from Salem. He is hardworking and never backs down from a challenge. Jay has a passion for serving the public and doing good. And importantly, Jay has always seen the ladder of opportunity not just for himself but to use that ladder to help others. As a Washington, DC intern for then Sen. John E. Sununu, Jay assisted constituents and showed the history of our nation to students who visited the Capitol. As Chief of Staff to former Congressman Frank Guinta, Jay worked tirelessly to ensure that every possible resource was made available to assist those in need. And today, Jay has taken even one more giant step in the direction of public service and is serving our country with his military service. He’s carrying the world on his shoulders and determined to make a difference.
Jay is now an Infantry Officer with the Army National Guard. In fact, he is leaving the Granite State for several months beginning in November for advanced training. In addition to serving our country, he is continuing to make a difference by helping those in need. Today, Jay is a major gift officer with New Hampshire Catholic Charities. His focus is recovery support and veterans’ care. His passion to help those in need and his commitment to having an impact has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars raised for these groups. He is out there front and center – always looking for more opportunities to educate and activate new people to join the cause in making a difference.
I am so proud of Jay on so many levels and am inspired by Jay’s service over self. Thank you, Jay Ruais!
Quotes of the Week: Excellence
“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”
“Desire is the key to motivation, but it's determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal - a commitment to excellence - that will enable you to attain the success you seek"
“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception. It is a prevailing attitude.”
“Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”
John W. Gardner
“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential... these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”