Chuck Berry passed away this week. He was 90 years old.
His simple, yet indelible guitar licks and rhythms helped form the bedrock of rock and roll. Even more, he is credited with shaping adolescence as we know it today by putting into lyrics what teenagers were feeling in the 1950s.
I wonder what it was like for him, at that age, to reflect upon the life he has lived. I am sure that he thought back to his childhood in St. Louis, Missouri. He probably remembered receiving his first guitar. Perhaps he could recall first envisioning the opening strains from “Johnny B. Goode” before he — or anyone else in the world — could make those sounds come out of a guitar.
What did it feel like to influence generations of musicians? What did it feel like to inspire the Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Who?
My father (the real Randy Watts) recalls seeing Chuck Berry playing gigs in small venues as a student at Hampden-Sydney College. Chuck Berry would come into town, teach his songs to the house band, and then play his heart out at night.
At Brookwood’s prom this past weekend, the band played many songs by contemporary artists who could follow their musical lineage directly back to him. Chuck Berry’s fingerprints remain on the music of several generations that followed his own teenage years.
In general, what would it feel like to live a life in which you created, shared, and influenced?
I recently spent some time back in the classroom, teaching a section of human development in Mrs. Nicholson’s psychology class.
In class, we discussed Erik Erikson’s eight stages of human development, which traces key transitions in life. The students were assigned to write a paper in which they reviewed the stages of their life from birth to now (adolescence), and then to imagine their lives in young adulthood, middle-aged adulthood, and then in old age, reflecting back on a life well lived.
It struck me, as I hope it did the students in that class, how much possibility each of them has to shape his or her future. Each of our students has the potential to create, innovate, and live lives of purpose and significance. Each one of them is the author of his or her life story, with many open chapters to write.
Perhaps now, more than ever, our students have the potential to make a positive impact. In this digital age, when an idea can circle the globe in seconds, the ability to lead lives of meaning and influence is limitless.
Brookwood’s students are immersed in an environment of potential. They have support, appropriate challenges, mentors, and are surrounded by peers who are dreamers with high standards and expectations for themselves.
Our students will not live perfect lives. Chuck Berry did not by any measure; he made plenty of mistakes. However, our students can seize the opportunity to live lives that they can look back upon and know that they did it well.