Students advised to become ‘biggest, baddest’ superheroes

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE Motivational speaker Cory Greenwood got down to the truth of things as he spoke about how bullying can bring everyone down, including the bully.

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE Cory Greenwood lets it go as “Elsa” from “Frozen” in a visit to the crowd of students attending the program.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

“Any of you like movies?  Who’s been to Target lately?  Who’s excited for ‘Frozen 2’ to come out?  Who likes watching superhero movies?” rallied Cory Greenwood, running up and down the length of half of Kingsland’s gymnasium Monday, Oct. 28, getting kindergarten through fifth grade students rowdier than rowdy as he and his band presented his take on what a superhero looks like – shortly after showing off his dance moves while wearing an “Elsa” costume from “Frozen,” because that’s how dads dance. 

Greenwood, sponsored in part by Valley Christian Center, appeared before the students with plenty of questions about superheroes – boy superheroes, girl superheroes, dad superheroes who just can’t figure out that how they dance is always going to embarrass their daughters – and a very relevant message.  He dared to ask, “Who’s your favorite superhero?” 

The students gave their replies all at once, to which Greenwood answered, “How did you know that’s my favorite superhero, too?  But why do we like watching superhero movies?  Because we like to see people who get picked on or who things have happened to them in life, or they’re different…we like to see them saving the world.  Maybe you’re picked on, but I came to give you some good news.  Every single one of you has a superpower, an opportunity to be a superhero, but it’s a big but.” 

Giggles erupted from the elementary school crowd at the inference of the words “big” and “but.” 

“Why are superheroes superheroes?” he asked. “Because they chose to use their superpowers for good and help people in a time of need. You have to choose.  When you see something, you have to use your powers to act.  But you’re thinking, ‘I just want to play Fortnite or Barbies or Minecraft.  I have better things to do with my time, Cory, than going out to save the world’.” 

Greenwood, a Grand Meadow High School graduate, presented three programs at the school last week with the other two tailored to their audiences — middle and high school students in the afternoon and the public in the evening.

“Some of you might be picked on, and I think you might think, ‘Why should I use my superpowers to help other people when they thought they should pick on me?’  My favorite superhero thought that, too,” Greenwood told the young students. “Spider-Man was a nerdy, socially awkward guy who knew he had all these powers, but he thought to himself, ‘I always get picked on, people always think I’m weird.  If I use my superpowers and people already think I’m weird, they’re going to pick on me even more.’ 

“He decided to use his superpowers only for himself and his aunt and uncle, until something happened.  A burglar was right there in front of him and he decided to let the guy go.  He thought, ‘He’s not hurting me, and my aunt has Spaghetti-Os at home for me, so he’s not my problem.’  But it all came back to him one night when he found his uncle Ben on the floor, and he saw the person that he’d just let go running away.  The person who he’d just let go just killed his uncle, his favorite person in the world.  And Spider-Man remembered something that his uncle had always told him: ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’  And at that moment, he decided that he was going to help other people.” 

Greenwood addressed the students, saying, “You’ve got real superpowers.  But you’re thinking, ‘What’s that got to do with me?  I can’t scale buildings or shoot webs.’  You may not be able to scale buildings or shoot webs, but know that your words can change somebody’s day or life.  If you see something happening that shouldn’t be happening, people being treated in a way they shouldn’t, are you going to speak out?  You have your words, and you can change a person’s day.

“Do you know that even your teachers have a bad day sometimes?  And even you have the power to change their day.  Just by walking into the classroom and smiling at them.  Or giving them a hug.  If you’re tall, help short people get stuff from the top shelf.  If you’re short, help tall people get stuff from the bottom shelf.  If you’re strong, help weak people like me.  Whatever you have, use it.  It doesn’t have to be hard, guys.  You have superpowers.  If somebody drops something, pick it up for them.”

The speaker then explained something very important to his little listeners.  “Now that you know that you have all this power, you have responsibility.  In every superhero story, there’s always a villain.  Because superpowers can be used for good or for bad.” 

And Greenwood then had to admit the truth.  “When I was in school, I was the villain,” he explained. “I used words and powers and actions that hurt other people.  To make that person feel weird or hurt them, I felt better about myself.  I felt stronger, bigger, tougher.  I did for the moment because I was with friends, but when I got home at night, I felt bad about myself because I knew I shouldn’t be doing that.” 

A student, well versed in what bullying is, gave his summarization of Greenwood’s behavior. “You’re a bully!” 

After one of the teachers acknowledged that student’s statement and encouraged him to listen further, Greenwood invited three lower elementary students to come down the bleachers and pull him to the ground and keep him there. 

“It’s not just getting me to the ground.  You’ve gotta keep me on the ground, not just kick me in the kneecap and walk away,” he said.

And so they attempted with all their little-kid might to roll the grown man to the ground, finding success and doing what they could to keep him pinned. 

After Greenwood told them they could set him free, he had this to say, “Did you see what happened?  Before we started, we were all standing on our feet.  Not all of us were standing up tall, but we were standing on our feet.  Once the got me on the ground, none of us were on our feet, standing tall. They had to stay on the ground to keep me on the ground. 

“If you call someone names, you have to go down with them.  Eventually, you feel just as bad as they do.  It’s impossible to tear people down without going down with them.  And you cannot fool people by treating them like garbage.  You can make a difference, use your superpowers, because when you pick people up, when you lift them up higher, you go higher, too.  I could take a couple of first graders and use a catapult to get them into the bleachers, but that’s not safe.  But if I carry them or push them up the steps, I go with them.” 

Greenwood asked the students to promise him one thing — to go home and “lift the world up, use your superpowers to be superheroes, not villains, because even though sometimes the villain wins, he never wins in the end.” 

He told the students he has experienced fear, such as when he was to take his first airplane ride at age 21.

“I was terrified to go on an airplane. I’d take a boat, I’d drive. Anything to not fly. But my boss said I had to go, or I’d have to quit my job.  I was so scared that I wanted to pee my pants and I had to get a barf bag because I was going to throw up in first class.  All the people around me told the flight attendant that they wanted me moved to another part of the plane, but there was a lady next to me who said, ‘Breathe like this and you’ll be OK.’ 

“Now that I’ve flown, I do it all the time.  She opened her mouth and changed my life.  I want you to be the biggest, baddest superheroes you can be.  Everyone, say, ‘I’m a superhero!  And dude, be kind!”