Music and the Spoken Word

What They May Become - July 13, 2014

John Trebonius was a humble schoolteacher in Germany many years ago. He was known for the unusually respectful attitude he showed toward the young people in his classroom. Even when they seemed a little unruly, he would treat them well. “Who knows?” he would say. “There may be among my pupils a great poet, a great preacher, a great philosopher!”1 Although it was the Germanic custom of the day for professors to keep their hats on when entering the schoolroom, John Trebonius always removed his, explaining, “I do not know but that there sits among [these students] one who will change the destiny of mankind. I take off my hat in deference to what they may become.”2

Sitting in that classroom, under the influence of that wise and gentle man, was a young Martin Luther, whose courage and convictions did indeed change the world.

People like John Trebonius who treat people according to their potential—who they can become rather than who they currently seem to be—can have a powerful influence on others. Their positive expectations inspire us to reach a little higher, do a little more, and become all that we can be.

Truly, we are surrounded by greatness—or, at least, potential greatness. Given time, people can, and often do, surprise us. The neighborhood boy who made mischief may turn into a great teacher, inventor, or civic leader . The little girl next door may become a noted scientist, artist, or journalist. And both have the potential to become exceptional adults, parents, and neighbors. Life is a long walk on a long road, and we never know what the future may bring for those within our influence. But we do know that human potential is limitless.

So remember the story of John Trebonius from long ago, and take off your hat in respect for what the future may bring.

- Lloyd D. Newell 

1. In David O. McKay, “Building Souls into Immortality—a Teacher’s Responsibility,” Instructor, June 1968, 213.

2. In Marion D. Hanks, The Gift of Self (1974), 126.