Jeffrey Wright, a physics teacher at Kentucky’s Louisville Male Traditional High School, is the teacher you wish you had when you were in school. It’s not just that he makes a subject that—let’s face it, can be kind of boring—really interesting, it’s that Wright also genuinely cares for his students. He’s the kind of teacher who leaves an impression long after you graduate.
But perhaps what separates Wright from most other teachers is his real-life experience. You see, Wright has a 12-year-old son named Adam who suffers from a rare genetic disorder called Joubert syndrome, which renders the brain unable to control balance and coordination. It has also impaired Adam’s vision, causes him to breathe uncomfortably fast and has left him unable to speak.
This is the beginning of Wright’s incredible lecture that he delivers each year on the meaning of life. The physics teacher has turned his own life experience parenting a special needs child into something that profoundly and positively impacts his students’ lives. It’s something he began doing after his lessons led students to ask “the big question.”
“When you start talking about physics, you start to wonder, ‘What is the purpose of it all?’ ” Wright says. “Kids started coming to me and asking me those ultimate questions. I wanted them to look at their life in a little different way—as opposed to just through the laws of physics—and give themselves more purpose in life.”
The New York Times:
Mr. Wright starts his lecture by talking about the hopes and dreams he had for Adam and his daughter, Abbie, now 15. He recalls the day Adam was born, and the sadness he felt when he learned of his condition.
“All those dreams about ever watching my son knock a home run over the fence went away,” he tells the class. “The whole thing about where the universe came from? I didn’t care. … I started asking myself, what was the point of it?”
All that changed one day when Mr. Wright saw Abbie, about 4 at the time, playing with dolls on the floor next to Adam. At that moment he realized that his son could see and play — that the little boy had an inner life. He and his wife, Nancy, began teaching Adam simple sign language. One day, his son signed “I love you.”
That one powerful gesture helped teach Wright the meaning of life, and it’s something he imparts to his students during the lecture.
Love, he says, “makes the ‘why’ we exist. In this great big universe, we have all those stars. Who cares? Well, somebody cares. Somebody cares about you a lot. As long as we care about each other, that’s where we go from here.”
Make sure you have some tissues close by while you watch this New York Times video about Wright, his son and the meaning of life: