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Living Beyond the Superficial

A Conversation with Renowned Journalist Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Cal Thomas with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., June 28 – During his talk with RespectAbility Fellows last week, Cal Thomas, a renowned journalist, celebrated author and Fox News contributor, proclaimed, “A cheerful spirit stands out like a rose in the snowstorm; people want to be around happy people.”

Thomas’ words sparked my excitement and inspiration instantly. I wanted to be that one red rose amongst all of the snow, the optimist amongst all of the pessimists in the workforce today.

His comparison unveils a truth most of us often overlook. We tend to believe that our current job, school/college and skillset make or break our careers. Thomas believes those things are important but explained that true success and opportunity come from our character and the impact we leave with others.

“Reputation and character are what you take with you,” Thomas said, meaning that our character follows us wherever we go and is equally, if not a bit more, important than our position or skillset.

According to Thomas, being a positive, compassionate person during any work or career endeavor is crucial. He believes a cheerful spirit is an especially powerful tool for people who have faced the many challenges that come with having mental and physical disabilities.

Cal Thomas and RespectAbility Fellow Brilynn Rakes smiling and posing for the camera

Cal Thomas and RespectAbility Fellow Brilynn Rakes

However, this can be extremely difficult. I am a visually-impaired aspiring professional dancer; I know how difficult it can be to combat low and negative expectations while also fearing others’ judgment.

Thomas also understands this challenge but asserted many times how rewarding it is to stay positive in a very negative world. His late brother was diagnosed with Down syndrome, so he has experience in helping his brother with his disability.

The overarching theme I gained from Thomas was: If we combat challenges and obstacles with optimism, compassion, and persistence, we will—without a doubt—succeed and leave a positive impact.

“A life without challenges is a superficial life,” he claimed.

These words ring true for those of us with disabilities. If we do not have challenges, then we will never learn how to overcome them. Negativity and strife invade our lives like a snowstorm. A few bright individuals stand out and blossom because they radiate positivity, charisma and compassion despite their challenges.

Thomas also talked the importance of finding common ground with people who have different political beliefs. For a decade, he wrote a bi-partartian column with Bob Beckel called “Common Ground.” Thomas stressed the importance of spending time with people you disagree with and trying to find ways to work together.

Cal Thomas talking with RespectAbility Fellow Brilynn Rakes in front of RespectAbility banner

Cal Thomas talking with RespectAbility Fellow Brilynn Rakes

I had the opportunity to introduce and sit next to Thomas during his talk. He has an intimidating presence at first; this is because of his success and recognition in the newspaper and broadcasting worlds as well as his height, 6’6. However, once he began cracking jokes and sharing liquid gold commentary, I was no longer intimidated; I was inspired.


RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact [email protected] for more information.



Meet the Author

Brilynn Rakes

Brilynn Rakes is a Communications Fellow. She is a recent graduate from Fordham University. As a visually-impaired dancer, she was the AT&T Spotlight Performer on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars where she performed alongside Emmy-nominated dancer and choreographer Derek Hough.

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