How many of us have used the term 'hero' without understanding the term? Many of us use the the word without realising what it actually is. If I asked you what you define as a hero and multiple other people what they define as a hero I would get many different answers and we could be here until this time next week debating a final definition. Now, some people believe that heroes are found in films and comic books. Some people believe heroes always wear flashy clothes with capes. Some people believe heroes are people who save others from life or death situations. This is what we were all brought up to believe. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes they are... but not always.

To me, a hero is somebody who perseveres through dark times and spreads light to the people around them, even if there is no light present for themselves. A hero is somebody who impacts the lives of others in a way that charges them with inspiration and delight. This person may not have a sense of clarity in their own lives but no matter how many odds are stacked up against them they persist in swimming through the murkiness until light is in reach, instead of allowing themselves to drown. They are empathetic, reliable and determined.

Growing up, I aspired to be like a certain individual - I’m sure many of you also felt the same way. I would see him on TV and my eyes would be glued to the screen. He inspires me to do greater things as he has to many people in this universe and undoubtedly to many of you. A great man with a great mind once said that “one of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist... without imperfection neither you nor I would exist”: that great man is Stephen Hawking. A curse to some may stop you reaching your goals and achieving what you wish to: both academically and spiritually. But not Hawking. Would you attempt the hurdles he did if you knew that a slow progressing form of ALS was slowly creeping towards you, inevitably stealing your mobility? Probably not. And truth be told, neither would I. The punishment of being burdened with the adverse chains of disability is difficult to overcome in any one person’s life. However, when that disability leaves you paralysed, stranded motionless in a fast moving world, all hope left must fade away and evaporate into a dark pit of nothingness. Hawking did not let this pit consume him.

Of course, some of you may argue that being born into a highly intellectual family with incredibly intelligent parents gave Hawking a great advantage. You’re not wrong. However, we do not need this advantage. Stop using that as an excuse. All we need in this world is motivation, determination and ambition. Do you think that overcoming prejudice came naturally to this legend? Of course it didn’t because he isn’t perfect: none of us are. But that is not to say that overcoming judgement is impossible. If Hawking can do it, so can you. We need to stop letting society form who we are by forcing us into a mould that simply doesn’t fit our bodies. Do we want to conform with the dystopian ideas that society is forcing on us? Or do we want to strive for our independence? Will we leave our hopes and ambitions discarded at the side of the road like empty vessels? Action or inertia? Accomplishment or disappointment? The answer seems simple. Make a stand for what you think is right. Don’t let people tell you who you are or who you should be. Listen to your heart. Learn to love yourself the way you are and love others for who they are. One who has accomplished all of this will truly be a hero in my eyes.

Anyway, back to Stephen Hawking. I can almost guarantee that some people argue that Hawking is no hero. You may protest that anybody could have achieved the things he has achieved and overcome the things he has overcome if they put the blood and sweat into it. But that’s just the thing. How many people have? How many people have immersed themselves in the knowledge of the universe? How many people have the changed the way we look at the world the way Hawking did? Not many people can say they have 16 different awards, medals and prizes, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (of which Hawking achieved in 2009), the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (of which he achieved in 1985) and the Dirac Medal of the Institute of Physics (of which he achieved in 1987). Not only did he achieve such exceptional things but all the while struggling with the poison of disability. If that doesn’t constitute a hero, what does?

I hope you all get the chance to reflect upon the inspiration and determination that this man has provided the world. I hope he not only triggers desire for ambition in me but also in everyone else. He has taught us that no matter what, you should persevere through this harsh reality and strive for what you desire. We must all propel into the unknown future with hope and resilience much like Hawking did. Take your chance to journey down the road of ambition that with hope will end in success.

So I leave you with the words of my hero himself:
“Is it difficult to comprehend? Perhaps. But I believe it is still worth trying.”