John O’Leary Challenges Luckyday Scholars

by Hadley Howell

Can one person change the world? I was asked this question on January 25, 2018. I thought to myself, “Well, yes. One person can change the world.” I just said yes because I knew it was the right answer and because I was in positive spirits, but I did not know why it was the correct answer. You are probably asking, “Who would even ask you that question?” That is exactly what I was thinking at the time, too. Why does anyone care if one person can change the world? Now, flip the question. Can YOU change the world?

On January 25, 2018, I attended my first program-wide Luckyday semester meeting as a freshman. Once a year, all of The University of Southern Mississippi’s Luckyday Scholars gather together for one big meeting. It is like a huge family reunion. Dr. Sparkman, Mrs. Dixon, and Mr. Quigley all spoke. Mr. Holmes Adams, the chairman of the Luckyday Foundation board of managers, even came from Jackson, MS, and spoke. As you can tell, there was a lot of speaking, but you are probably wondering what this has to do with changing the world. Let me explain.

In about thirty minutes we were given program announcements and words of wisdom to encourage us in our academic endeavors. Then, Dr. Sparkman put the microphone back on its stand and sat down. Great, the meeting was over. But all of a sudden, this guy in the audience stood up and simply said, “Can one person change the world?”

The guy’s name was John O’ Leary. Mr. O’ Leary walked to the front of the room and said again, “What do you think? Can one person change the world?” John O’ Leary was burned on 100% on his body as a child by fire. That is all I am going to say. This guy named John O’ Leary who was burned as a child stood in front of me and around 400 other students and softly asked those six simple words.


John O’Leary speaking to Luckyday Scholars

For the next hour, I listened to Mr. O’ Leary share his story. He told of how certain people changed his life and talked about the influence we can have on each other. He talked about being “on fire” for life. He poured out his heart and his life story. He talked about all the people in his life had helped him and his family through their difficult journey of healing and the rebuilding of their house after the fire. One specific story he wove throughout his talk was about Jack Buck, the sportscaster for the St. Louis Cardinals and  is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, who heard about John’s situation and visited him in the hospital every day.  He then continued to encourage him through his treatments, recovery, and then throughout his life. After an hour of telling his story, John asked, “Will you change the world?”


Jack Buck. Picture taken during John O’Leary’s presentation.

So, today, when you get out of bed, will you change the world? The Luckyday students and myself were challenged with this question on January 25. John O’ Leary asked me that question, but now I want to ask you. Can one person change the world, and will it be you?


Sumar Beauti, AJ McGee, & John O’Leary


Hadley Howell is a freshman Luckyday Scholar from McComb majoring in dance.

John O’Leary is author of the book On Fire. He speaks to groups around the country, creatively crafting his message to fit each audience and bringing his genuine self to all those who listen. 

To hear an excerpt from John’s presentation, check out the video put together by Luckyday freshman Earl Stoudemire. Luckyday John O’Leary Speech

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