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Last night, Obama gave his first address before congress. But the real winners of the evening were the ordinary citizens Obama highlighted in his speech. Leonard Abess Jr., Ty-Sheoma Bethea, and the entire community of Greensburg, Kansas are examples of "anything but ordinary" citizens who have done what they could to give back in these trying times.
These are their stories.
I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. He didn't tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, "I knew some of these people since I was seven years old. I didn't feel right getting the money myself."
I think about Greensburg, Kan., a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community -- how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. "The tragedy was terrible," said one of the men who helped them rebuild. "But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity."
And I think about Ty-Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, S.C. -- a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, "We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters."
Watch Ty'Sheoma Bethea on ABC's Good Morning America:
Like Obama, we too find our inspiration in "anything but ordinary" citizens: our readers. A few weeks ago we asked you to share your acts of decency and generosity, as well as the moments of sheer perseverance and kindness of community you may have witnessed in others. You responded with a flood of answers -- so for more inspiration, take a moment to read the round-up of our readers' random acts of kindness. We know that there has to be more where that came from, so please e-mail us at email@example.com or share them in the comments below.