Role Models & Heroes: Ellen DeGeneres (2019)

The following essay on role model Ellen DeGeneres was written by Jesse Robbins, 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. The process improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of a role model is a person whose behavior in a particular role is to be imitated by others. A hero is defined as a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability. I chose to write about a role model. When choosing my role model, I was thinking of someone I look up to and someone who fits in with my values; someone who has qualities that either I aspire to or I appreciate in others. I chose Ellen DeGeneres. Ellen is always doing good, she gives back, and is a change-maker. She is selfless. Not only is she an amazing talk show host (interviewing people who are doing good for the world, helping people in need and making us all laugh at the same time), but she is a humanitarian. She’s probably not perfect, no one is, but I don’t know anything bad she’s done. And for all the good she does, she is my role model.

Ellen started her career in stand-up comedy. In 1986 she was on the Johnny Carson Show. Johnny Carson was the “King of Late Night” television, according to many of his fans. If he asked a comedian to sit on his couch after their routine it was a sign that he thought you were talented. This created professional opportunities for a select few. Ellen was the first woman to be invited to sit on his couch, which was a dream-come-true for her. This launched her career.

Ellen was born in 1958. She is 61 years old. After being on Johnny Carson, she made some comedy shows that were on TV and then had her own sitcom. It was on her second show, The Ellen Show, that she came out as a lesbian. This was the first time an openly lesbian actress played a lesbian character. Ellen has paved the way for other gay and lesbian people to be “out” in the media and has helped society to be more accepting. She has continued to do so much, but I want to talk to you about her charitable work.

Ellen DeGeneres is not only a talk show host, but she also gives back to the community in a way that no other person does. Every day she changes people’s lives by giving money, an apartment, or paying off their debts. For example, Ellen invited a senior class from a Charter School in Brooklyn to her talk show. She wanted to acknowledge their obstacles and reward them for their hard work, so she offered each of them a four-year scholarship to a New York State college of their choice. In addition, she gave their high school $25,000. In total, she ended up giving them $1.6 million, which is her largest donation. This allowed teenagers who may not have gone to college the opportunity to go.

Ellen gave $1,000,000 to the Rockport Fulton High School in Texas whose gym was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. The hurricane was centered right over their town.  It is a close community and the gym served as a second home to many of the students. Ellen found out about it getting ruined and wanted to help them rebuild.

Ellen also likes to reward and highlight people who are doing good or working hard to encourage others to do their best and be nice to everybody. There are way too many stories to mention them all, but for example, Ellen is known for her “One Million Acts of Good,” where she likes to acknowledge people who are doing good in the community. Once she invited people to be in her audience who were all doing good deeds for others.  She gave them a total of $1,000,000 so they could continue to “pay it forward” and to show her appreciation.

Another example is that Ellen gave a lot of money away to the firefighters of the recent fires in California. One first responder lost his house when he was fighting a fire in a nearby neighborhood. Ellen was impressed with his ability to help others in the same situation he was in and wanted to reward him. She wanted to help him rebuild his house and neighborhood. Ellen gave additional money to other firehouses as a show of appreciation to all the firefighters who worked so hard.

Ellen learned of a story about the Sanders family from Ohio. They had five biological children. Later, they adopted six other children after fostering four boys. They learned that there were also two girls from the same family and had them tracked down so they could keep all the siblings together. The family took a trip to California and was taking a tour of the Warner Brothers Studio. Ellen surprised them by having the tour guide drive them on stage during a taping of the show. The Sanders family, all 13 of them, were her guests. They always looked up to Ellen so this was a big honor for them to be featured on her show. Since she liked their story she gave them a check for $50,000 to help with their expenses. She also gave them tickets to “12 Days”, a show leading up to Christmas where she gives away gifts, such as vacations, gift cards and electronics.

Ellen is always changing lives in big ways and in small ways. Once she awarded a man with $10,000 because he saved a tortoise that was crossing the street. He was worried it would be hit by a car so he carried it across. By highlighting people on her show who are doing good, she is spreading the word and putting good into the world. This is contagious and will motivate others to be their best.

Ellen doesn’t only give to people. She is a long-time animal activist and has won awards for some of her work with animal rights. For Ellen’s 60th birthday her wife surprised her with The Ellen Degeneres Wildlife Fund. It’s her own wildlife fund that will work to protect gorillas in Rwanda and educate the public about conservation and endangered animals.

Everyday Ellen ends her talk show with the same saying, “Be kind to one another.” Kindness is one of my values, which I spoke about earlier. Ellen inspires me to do good and makes me think about how I can create change in the world. From holding doors for others to donating my money and time through community service to help those in need, I am continuing her example.