Role Models & Heroes: Ellen DeGeneres (2014)

By April 21, 2014November 15th, 2018Bnei Mitzvah, Heroes & Role Models
The following essay on Ellen DeGeneres was written by Liliana Franklin, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project; an example of this can be seen below. The process  improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.

Liliana Franklin
April 27, 2014

My definition of a hero is someone who saves people from a burning building or a crashed plane or just someone who has a BIG impact on your life. When I hear the word hero, I immediately think of Superman or Spiderman or Batman. My definition of a role model is someone who you look up to or admire for something that they have done for the community or just in general. To me, a hero can be a role model but a role model does not have to be a hero. I do believe a person can be a hero or role model and can have flaws and weaknesses. Look at Superman, for example; he was a big superhero and his biggest weakness was a rock, Kryptonite. Nobody is perfect and flawless. I myself have flaws. I also have a role model.

My role model is Ellen DeGeneres, the well-known stand-up comic—but her humor and fame are not what initially drew me to her. I picked Ellen while looking for a role model who seemed to love animals as much as I do. During the process of picking someone I thought of many people, ranging from Jane Goodall, for my love of animals, to singers, for my love of music, but I picked Ellen because she had so many qualities I admired. As I researched Ellen, I learned that we had other special things in common in addition to loving animals—like humor! She also is brave and generous and kind, and wants to better the world, which are things I value.

Ellen has donated a lot of money to charities and foundations, many to help animals. In 2010, she served as a campaign ambassador for Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt-a-Turkey Project asking people to adopt a turkey instead of eating one on Thanksgiving. She has supported the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. On one website, I found a letter Ellen wrote to fellow pet lovers. In the letter she wrote about how you should treat your pets like you would like to be treated. She has become a part owner of the pet food brand, “Halo,” in hopes for all animals to be the healthiest they can be. On the Ellen Show website there is a section called “Going Vegan with Ellen” that promotes meatless Mondays and features vegan recipes.

As I said, Ellen is generous. In addition to helping animals, she helps babies by supporting Project Cuddle, which rescues babies and has a 24/7 hotline. Other causes she has helped include victims of Hurricane Katrina. She raised $7 million for a Hurricane Katrina relief fund. She also supports Peace First, which teaches children to work together to solve conflicts and become leaders.

Ellen DeGeneres was born on January 26, 1958. She was born and raised in Metairie, Louisiana. Ellen’s mom, Elizabeth, was a speech therapist and her dad, Elliot, was an insurance agent. Her brother, Vance, is a musician and a producer. Ellen’s nickname was “Tilly Mint.” She did not finish college. She dropped out of the University of New Orleans after the first semester. Ellen did not know what she wanted to do. She painted houses, did clerical work in a law firm, sold clothes and vacuum cleaners, and worked as a hostess, waitress, and a bartender. She started doing stand-up comedy in New Orleans at small clubs and coffee houses. Eventually she performed nationally, and then won a competition sponsored by Showtime that led to her being named the funniest person in America.

After the Showtime competition she was invited to go on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. This was a breakthrough for her career. On Carson’s show, she had the distinction of being the only female comic to be welcomed by Carson to sit on the famed “couch” on her first visit. On the show, she did a funny skit where she pretended to have a phone conversation with God. I thought maybe you would find it funny to see this 3-minute video because she pokes a little bit of fun at having a relationship with a supernatural being.

As many of you probably know, Ellen went on to have several television shows. The first was “These Friends of Mine” (later renamed “Ellen”) and then “The Ellen Show,” and eventually the show she has today, “Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Many people also know her as the voice of Dory in the hit Disney movie, Finding Nemo. Others may know her for another reason: Ellen announced openly on television that she is a lesbian. I love her for her bravery. Many people would not come out openly on television or in general that they are gay or lesbian out of fear of being judged negatively by their peers and the community.

Ellen announced that she was a lesbian on her show “Ellen.” Forty-six million viewers watched the show, called “The Puppy Episode.” Because she did that, the Chrysler car company withdrew their ads from her show and a television station in Birmingham, Alabama, refused to air the episode. The “Ellen” show was canceled the next season but the episode won a Peabody award.

Ellen has won many other awards. She was nominated for 11 daytime Emmy awards and won 25 Emmys in the first three seasons of her talk show. She also won the 2012 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She was named “Woman of the Year” by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals); won Teen Choice and People’s Choice awards; was named by Forbes magazine as one of the top five influential women in media and by Time magazine as one of the Top 100 influential people; and voted favorite T.V. personality in a Harris Poll, winning over Oprah Winfrey and Jay Leno.

Ellen uses her talk show to help people out. She has celebrities and everyday people come on her show to share interesting stories. Her mom is a regular in the audience. She has had celebrity guests like Madonna, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and First Lady Michelle Obama, and also people who have been victims of bullying and discrimination and who lead organizations that help the world, like the Humane Society. She uses her show to tell the world about important things and to make a difference. She has dedicated shows to breast cancer awareness and global warming.

Even though Ellen never graduated from college, she was invited by Tulane University to talk at graduation in 2009. I would like her to talk at my graduation! I watched an excerpt from her speech. She was funny but also was kind and caring. While speaking to the graduates, Ellen told them many motivational things:
“Live your life with integrity. Don’t give into peer pressure to be something you’re not,” she said. “Live life as an honest and compassionate person, contribute in some way…follow your passions, stay true to yourself,…” and my favorite, “Never follow someone else’s path; unless you are in the woods, and you are lost, and you see a path; then by all means, you should follow the path.”

I’m not sure where my path will lead—maybe it will be long and winding—but I hope to find my own road the way Ellen did. In that same graduation speech Ellen said that when she was young she thought the most important thing in life was to be famous, to be a star. Now she knows that it’s more important to be a good person and make a difference in the world. I think she’s right, and that’s what I hope to do— though being famous would be cool too!