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Every day, we have the opportunity to identify role models who not only can lead us to be better people but who also encourage us to follow a dream with the full understanding that it can come true, regardless of the obstacles. As parents, guardians, family and friends of youth today, we tend to obsess on whom they will pick to be their role models and what the selection criteria will be. Will the criteria focus on character and talent, or will it be based on popularity and media hype? In order to ease our minds a bit and validate that the good ones are still out there, in this issue, we present the talented Taylor Swift (page 42), who has made a name for herself as a role model in the challenging entertainment industry, where so many others have failed.

And why are role models important? Because, from time to time, we all need a little direction and encouragement, and that is what they provide. They are individuals who help shape who and what we are, and they can even lead us to what we will become. We find role models in many areas of our lives, ranging from family and friends to athletes and celebrities. Many of us can recall those we identified over the years to take on that role. Quite often it starts with a parent, then we move on to a teacher, a sibling or an older youngster in the neighborhood, followed by some sort of celebrity. The thing is, we carry away a trait or two from each role model — hopefully good traits — that will remain with us for the rest of our lives. Think about it and take a moment to review your own list of role models.

My list started with my mom, who is the most patient and unselfish person I know and who always claimed that she was not as nice as she looked — which repeatedly proved to be untrue. Then it was my dad, who not only had a cool office (complete with electric dental chairs that were very fun to ride … unless we got caught) but also wielded an unwavering commitment to his staff and a work ethic that did not fail, whether the task be personal or professional. In grade school, my role model was Ms. Hill, my third-grade teacher at Fairland Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md. She taught me that if I put all my energy into the task at hand, I could accomplish anything, including conquering a severe lisp. Then came the celebrity influence. It started with Mark “the Shark” Spitz and a love for the sport of competitive swimming, following his seven-gold-medal win in the 1972 Olympics. As a result, I swam competitively through my senior year of high school. After Spitz, it was Peter Brady (Christopher Knight) from The Brady Bunch, who taught me new tricks on how to deal as the second of three brothers, allowing me to develop into the well-adjusted middle child. In the 1980s, it was Peter McDermott (James Brolin) on the TV show Hotel, who inspired me to launch a career in hospitality because I was going to be him ­— a hotel general manager living in the penthouse of a luxe San Francisco hotel. Several others have stepped in over the years to offer inspiration and insight, including my father-in-law, who taught me that to find the good in people, you simply have to look — and that operating a chain saw on an extension ladder teetering on a tree stump is not such a great idea. Lesson learned! So, you see, our need for good role models never goes away.

When I think about what kind of role models are available for today’s youth, it causes me concern. Perhaps it is the same kind of concern my parents had for me and that their parents had for them. The celebrity category is top of mind, as they are out in front of us at every turn. We have seen the downward spiral of so many young actors and musicians who have made one unfortunate choice after another, all with a huge following of our youth. And with so many touchpoints today — cable TV, the Internet, cell phones, YouTube, iTunes, Pandora, general merchandising and more — it is hard to monitor what slips through the filter.

Fortunately for us, there are people out there like Taylor Swift … songwriter, singer, entertainer and, I’m very happy to report, a fantastic role model, in my opinion. She has demonstrated time and again that she is grounded and committed to her craft, and that she truly loves her fans and the opportunity to perform. My daughter and I had the opportunity to attend a Taylor Swift concert in Dallas last year and witnessed all these qualities firsthand. Here’s the thing: She’s not in it just for herself! She is intentional about giving others the platform to shine and succeed. Sharing the stage with her at this concert were former American Idol standout Kellie Pickler and a fantastic new group called Gloriana, and we’re now a fan of both. When Swift took the stage, it was a true production: She gave 100 percent and clearly enjoyed every minute of it. About halfway through her show, the audience decided to give back, rendering the singer speechless. The crowd delivered a standing ovation that lasted nearly five minutes, and, her gratitude obvious, Swift closed by stating that it was a moment that she would never forget.

So, thank you, Taylor Swift, and all those like you! Regardless of whether you are a parent, a teacher, a friend, a co-worker or the next big celebrity, know that somewhere, someone is watching you, ready to follow your lead. Make sure that the trait that this person learns from you, the one that he or she will carry through life, will be one that you will be proud to lay claim to!