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Celebrating Our Super Powers: Emily Ballard '12

The Country School was thrilled to welcome Emily Ballard ’12 back to campus this week for an Elmore Leadership talk and a screening of the new documentary film she produced about her father, renowned oceanographer Robert Ballard. Although the title of Emily’s documentary is Robert Ballard: The Man Who Found the Titanic, the film is far less about the discovery Dr. Ballard is best known for and much more about the scientific discoveries he is most proud of as well as some of the adversities he has encountered in life and challenges he has embraced and overcome.

Emily introducing her film.

Emily started her short talk before the screening by telling members of her audience that they are all superheroes. Like Superman, she said, “We all have special abilities. We all have ability, whether it be sports or academics or artwork.” But, she continued, “Just like Superman, we all have our kryptonite. My kryptonite happens to be dyslexia. However, just like Superman, I can overcome it. How I did that was through these amazing teachers here in the back row.”

Emily, who majored in Television and Radio and minored in History at Ithaca College, talked about discovering she was dyslexic as a young student at The Country School and how her teachers, her mother, and various tutors helped her learn and grow in spite of her learning differences. She described becoming enchanted with History when, in 5th Grade, she was introduced to ancient Egypt and Greece with Kerri Kelly, and how having her work published in an archeology magazine was an empowering experience for her. She talked about how Outdoor Education and PE and being able to run around outside during recess were invaluable parts of her Country School experience and how being recognized for her gifts, and not judged for her differences, were transformative.

Emily (far right) with classmates during a Country School outdoor trip.

Emily during her recent graduation from Ithaca.

Emily, who produced The Man Who Found the Titanic for her senior project at Ithaca, also talked about the process of creating the documentary. She described how she and her classmate, Pat, worked non-stop for more than five months, getting up in the wee hours of the morning to work on the film while also balancing six other subjects, so they could best tell her father’s story. She talked about interviewing family members, gathering footage, and traveling to various locales to produce the best documentary they could. She described the film as it stands as “a work in progress,” but said when it’s all finished, they look forward to submitting it to festivals. Click here for a video of her talk at The Country School.

The poster for Emily's documentary.

Students and teachers then watched the documentary. While it mentions Dr. Ballard’s most renowned discovery, finding the wreck of the Titanic during a top-secret military expedition, it dwells far longer on the underwater finds that mean much more to him, all having to do with science (the geology of the sea floor, the biology of life at the ocean’s deepest points, and the chemistry of the ocean). It also conveys important messages that really amount to a philosophy of life:

  • That we all are more than the one thing we're best known for (in Dr. Ballard's case, discovering the Titanic)
  • The importance of parents giving children permission to follow their dreams (as Dr. Ballard’s parents did for him when, as a young boy, he announced he wanted to be like Jules Verne's Captain Nemo)
  • The difficulty of coming back after heartbreak (in his case, the tragic death of his oldest son)
  • The importance of embracing challenges and regarding them as gifts rather than roadblocks (through Emily's dyslexia journey, Dr. Ballard came to realize that he, too was dyslexic, but he has come to consider his learning difference as a benefit, something that has enabled him to see the world in a unique and beautiful way)

Thank you, Emily, for sharing your personal story and parts of your father’s story we had never heard before. You are most definitely a Country School superhero!