Liviu Librescu - Hero
Liviu Librescu didn’t set out to be a hero on April 16, 2007. It started out as just another day teaching students at his beloved Virginia Tech University, where he had been a distinguished professor of aeronautical engineering for more than 20 years. But when a gunman attempted to enter the classroom where Dr. Librescu was teaching, he reacted instinctively and selflessly, physically barricading the door so his students could escape through the windows. It wasn’t the first time Dr. Librescu had faced adversity—he was a Holocaust survivor who, as a youth, had been confined to a Jewish ghetto in his native Romania. Says Robert Heller, Ph.D., a friend and fellow Virginia Tech engineering professor: “He resisted the Communist regime in Romania, and he died so as to not allow a tyrant to rule over him or his students.”
Barbara Morgan - Educator Turned Astronaut
Of 11,000 eager applicants, Idaho elementary-school teacher Barbara Morgan was one of two instructors chosen by NASA in 1984 to fly on the space shuttle. The other teacher, New Hampshire’s Christa McAuliffe, got to go first—and her death in the 1986 Challenger disaster seemed to end the Teachers in Space program forever. But Morgan remained one of NASA’s most vocal supporters, relentlessly promoting space exploration and insisting that the best way to respond to setbacks is not with fear, but with courage and determination. Last August, her dream of rocketing into orbit on the space shuttle Endeavour came true. Says Morgan, 56: “I want all of our students and teachers to get some stardust on them.”
Gary Sinise - Protector of Children
Gary Sinise wants your rulers. And your crayons. That’s because Sinise, 52, the poker-faced cop on TV’s CSI: New York, is the driving force behind Operation Iraqi Children, a nationwide effort to send school supplies to kids in war-torn Iraq. More than 200,000 children have received school kits—solicited by Sinise’s organization and distributed by U.S. soldiers. Says Sinise: “There are millions of average people like you and me over there just trying to make a living and send their kids to school.” Since 2004, his group has raised more than $1 million, largely through its website, www.operationiraqichildren.org. Sinise has also been to Iraq three times, performing for the troops with his rock group, the Lt. Dan Band, named for his Oscar-nominated role in Forrest Gump.
Helen Thomas - First Amendment Defender
No one will ever accuse Helen Thomas of being intimidated by the power of the presidency. During 39 years covering the White House for UPI, she became known for her traditional tag line at the close of each White House news conference—“Thank you, Mr. President”—and also for her relentlessly tough questions. “I didn’t go into this business to be loved or even popular,” says the 87-year-old pioneering newswoman. One of nine children of Lebanese immigrants, Thomas says her nosiness (and undoubtedly her nose for news) led to her first job as copygirl at the now-defunct Washington Daily News, where she immediately began breaking news—and gender barriers. Now a columnist for Hearst Newspapers, she remains a valued voice in Washington.