A Day of Discovery with 2023 Hamilton Life Achievement Award Recipient Dr. Bob Ballard

March 8, 2023

Dr. Ballard talks with Hamilton students in their science classroom.
Dr. Ballard talks with Hamilton students in Teacher Zach Edson’s science classroom.

Last Friday morning, in the classroom of Hamilton School Science Teacher Zach Edson, deep-sea explorer Robert D. Ballard, Ph.D. showed a group of Hamilton 6th-graders videos from some of his underwater journeys. “Get ready for another scientific term,” Dr. Ballard said as a fascinating creature swam into the frame. “Wow!” the voice on the video exclaimed. The students were captivated. “You are the vanguard of future explorers,” Dr. Ballard told them. “There is so much to discover, and you guys are wired for it.”

As someone with dyslexia and ADHD, Dr. Ballard wanted them to know that he is wired for great things, too. He was at Wheeler to receive the 2023 Hamilton Life Achievement Award, which recognizes people who have used their learning differences to their advantage in accomplishing great things. The day-long, special event marked the culmination of this year’s Learning Differences Awareness Weeks, when all of Wheeler’s divisions put a spotlight on learning differences and recognized the importance of embracing neurodiversity as a school community. Since its founding in 1988, The Hamilton School at Wheeler has provided students who have great cognitive ability, but who struggle with reading, organization, and study skills due to learning differences, with the individualized instruction that leads to success. Dr. Ballard, like the Hamilton Life Achievement Award recipients before him, serves as an inspiration to Hamilton’s young learners.

Dr. Ballard speaks to a full Madden Gym during the all-school assembly.
Dr. Ballard at the all-school assembly.

He started the day talking with Hamilton students, faculty, and staff at their Community Meeting, and after his visit to Mr. Edson’s classroom, he addressed the entire Wheeler community at a special all-school assembly.

“This is charging my soul,” Dr. Ballard said after the assembly. “I love being with kids who are like I was, and giving them some friendly advice on how to get down a bumpy road. I want them to know that there is a wonderful life waiting for them, and that they’re lucky to be dyslexic–they just need to learn how to be a dyslexic in the modern day world. I want them to know that they’re not alone, that there are wonderful things waiting for them and they just need to follow their passion.”

After our conversation, Dr. Ballard headed out to meet with other groups throughout the day. During a visit to the XR Lab (Wheeler’s Extended Reality Lab), he told students, “Try everything. Now is the time to explore and see what is of interest to you. That’s how you’ll find your passion.” He also met with members of the Upper School’s Environmental Action Club and 9th-grade Environmental Science students, as well as the NuVuX studio team, and joined a group of Hamilton 7th-graders to record a podcast episode.

Dr. Ballard is the founder and president of the Ocean Exploration Trust and Professor of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography. He gained public fame in 1985 as the discoverer of the final resting place of the ill-fated R.M.S Titanic, and later for the discovery of the German battleship Bismarck and other ancient shipwrecks. However, he prefers to be known for the discovery of the first hydrothermal vents and their exotic chemosynthetic animal communities in the Galapagos Rift in 1977, followed by the discovery of high temperature “Black Smokers” on the East Pacific Rise in 1979. He is an Explorer-At-Large at the National Geographic Society, Commissioner for the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, and a Research Scholar at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He served in the U.S. Navy for more than 30 years and continues to work with the Office of Naval Research. As a pioneer in the development of deep-sea submersibles and remotely operated vehicle systems, Dr. Ballard has taken part in more than 160 deep-sea expeditions.

Dr. Ballard records a podcast episode with Hamilton students.
Dr. Ballard records a podcast episode with Hamilton students.

On Friday evening, he gathered with our adult community for the annual “Mind Your p’s and q’s” event, as we celebrated the school’s commitment to our diverse learners and honored Dr. Ballard as this year’s Hamilton Life Achievement Award recipient.

“It is my great privilege to introduce an incredible individual whose efforts and achievements have made a tremendous impact in the fields of science, education, oceanography, and innovation and discovery,” said Bill McCarthy, the head of the Hamilton School here at Wheeler, when presenting Dr. Ballard with the award. “In his autobiography, Into the Deep, Dr. Ballard reflects on his experience as a student with dyslexia and ADHD,” Mr. McCarthy continued. “He discusses the challenges he faced in the areas of reading and writing and how teachers would tell him to ‘quit talking out of turn and show more self control.’ As a college student, he was drawn to the fields of geology and chemistry which unlocked a new found path to academic success for him. Dr. Ballard describes how he would photograph notes in his mind and retrieve these mental images while completing exams. I share these vignettes from his autobiography as they parallel the experiences and challenges faced by many individuals with dyslexia and ADHD. One particular quote struck me while reading Into the Deep. Dr. Ballard candidly shared, ‘When I’m working on one thing, I’m always dreaming up the next, just waiting for the right opportunity.’ This quote beautifully summarizes the wonderful gifts and talents that many individuals with dyslexia have, and Dr. Ballard, your brilliant, entrepreneurial, innovative and creative mind is deeply impressive.”

We join in the celebration of Dr. Bob Ballard as the 28th recipient of the Hamilton Life Achievement Award.

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