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TIME Magazine's Most Influential, Plus a Few of My Own

   F Asa in Turkey framed copy.jpg

                        In Turkey with Azza (center)

TIME magazine released its list of Top 100 Most Influential People in the World this week and, as usual, I’ve got something to say about it. 

First, may I say I love the list. I love learning about people in all walks of life, representing all ages, doing, making and pioneering all kinds of things. These are the kinds of lists that, when combined as an anthology, frame much of what we’ll look back upon as defining an era.

These lists capture a moment and encapsulate a breakthrough period in which the collective minds of men can look and say, “This is where we are now. This is a harbinger of where we’re going.”

I’m one of those geeks who digested every biography in the children’s library. I’d also devour, even meditate, over the pages of Collier’s Annual Encyclopedia. To this day, I still recall a 1967 hardbound volume picturing the debut of Twiggy, the young waif fromLondonwho defined a modern era in fashion. For those of you not part of the demo, you’d be surprised to learn that 45 years later, Twiggy is going strong and looking great.  Currently in her early 60s, Twiggy’s marketing her signature line of snazzy sneakers and chic accessories for the Home Shopping set. 

What’s so exciting about the TIME 100 list?  The list inspires, uplifts and captivates. It causes readers like me to dream and aspire for more.

So why am I writing today about a TIME list that appears each and every year?  Because today I’d like to inspire others to see even more when it comes to the subject of influence.

For example, how many candidates across the globe do you suppose are placed annually on TIME’s list of nominees?  In addition, have you considered the internal decisions made as one name is raised while another dropped from the list? Things like diversity, geography, category, timing, media recognition factors and more are most likely crunched to determine who’s in and who’s out.

When I look at the TIME list, I see each individual as a standalone. I also see the group as a whole. Yet I never lose sight of the obvious fact that everyone –each in his or her own way, with his or her own set of talents, personal characteristics and opportunities is an icon all by himself.

TIME’s list may capture the names, faces and moments in which the world at large can relate. But what about your world? Everyone has a world to call his own.  Everyone can point to Influencers or Persons of the Year who have influenced them in their personal world. While we’d all agree the present world can be measured in things like latitude and longitude, can we also agree that the world remains a rather personal space in each of our lives?

In my world, I can point back to Mrs. Canales, a beautiful, talented and educated woman who taught me piano, voice and guitar for almost ten years.   An original immigrant from Cuba, Mrs. Canales influenced my world.  While her cash, jewelry and even a PhD remained behind with Fidel Castro’s new communist regime, Mrs. Canales managed to show me the dignity, grace, strength and virtue of the Cuban island and her people.

I also remember my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Ambrosio, whose height (and, according to her, sometimes her clothing) matched those of her pint-sized students. Mrs. Ambrosio was known for fun.  The joy she derived from being with kids always made going to school an upbeat and feel-good experience, something that can change the face of learning.  Despite her diminutive stature, Mrs. Ambrosio referred to us as “people” rather than “children”. She made us all feel a bit like adults, and we often rose to the expectation.

 Mrs. Ambrosio’s size was found in her heart rather than her height.  She wrote and directed an annual minstrel show filled with knock-knock jokes, slapstick comedy and music. While the tides of social reform and equal rights in the 1966-67 academic year proved questionable for painting our white faces black, Mrs. Ambrosio proved a force that helped her “white” class love and respect the “negro” community and join in with the best of its music and fun. To this day, I can sing Al Jolson’s Suwannee River with a smile! What a gift Mrs. Ambrosio proved in my young life of learning.

Influential people need not be found just in childhood; they can be found anywhere and at any time. Just two weeks ago, a shift in weather during a tourist boat ride along the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey brought me face-to-face with another individual who could change and color my world, despite the black  hijab head scarf in which she was attired.  The smiling face with sparkling eyes that were only too happy to make room for me below deck belonged to none other than a young Saudi named Azza. 

Like me, Azza was on holiday in this foreign land and decided to take in the sights. The boat’s broken PA system and lack of professional tour guide gave opportunity for me to learn about a nation and culture from a young person equally sharing her interest in mine.

During the next 45-minutes to an hour, I was able to learn that Azza’s parents both studied in America and had decided to send their young daughter to the US for high school studies.  Just 15 when theTwin Towers collapsed under the fateful 9/11 terrorist attacks, young Azza continued going out and attending school, knowing that her parents and familiar support group remained half a world away.

“It was frightening and humiliating,” she admitted. “I remember taking a plane to California soon after 9/11. The passenger assigned to sit beside me refused his seat. He started crying, ‘I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!’ I felt awful. And I understood how frightened he must have felt.

The young woman who was only too happy to have her picture taken, connect professionally via LinkedIn, and have me introduce her to my globe-trekking daughter, did much to influence me on my ideas about Muslim countries and their people. This business graduate of George Washington University in Washington,DC who spent a few post-grad years working for one of the world’s largest accounting firms, is currently enjoying life studying at Cambridge University in England. 

Azza continues to look for new ways in which to branch out while admitting, perhaps even sheepishly, that Saudi Arabia has a ways to go in advancing women’s rights.

“We have some (women’s) rights, but not as much as in America. But we are making progress.”

Young Azza is more than a positive example of that progress. Willing to share her family, national and religious backgrounds with me, she made equally incisive inquiries into mine, wanting to know how my husband and I met, what we were doing with our entertainment business pursuits, and wondering why we chose to home school our only child.   The two of us even discussed how both she and my daughter would fare in finding future husbands who would welcome and complement their expansive quests and desires for personal growth.

Just two weeks ago, I added one more name to my list of influential people. Azza may never end up on the cover of  TIME, but she proved an enjoyable, enlightening and special time for me.

May you find in life that the people you meet, the places you go, and the experiences you have help you encounter some of the Most Influential People in your world, too.

Just like Azza.

Maura Sweeney is an Author and Public Speaker.

For Maura Sweeney's Amazon book series, click here for The Art of Happiness.



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