Lessons from an Underdog

Jon Acton
3 min readOct 4

I recently had a VIP “Rockstar” experience at a Jelly Roll concert in Indianapolis due to the generosity of a longtime friend. Over 25 thousand people crowded the arena to listen to this modern-day Rock/Rap/Country Star. Fresh off his 2023 People’s Choice Award for Male Artist of the Year, with hits like “Need a favor,” “Son of a Sinner,” and “Save Me,” this young man and his band crushed their performance, leaving the entire audience in awe.

Jelly Roll’s colorful background has been well documented, and I will not elaborate to point out specific challenges in his life. He has been knocked on his posterior multiple times from his youth to young adulthood, just like many underdogs have! Jelly Roll is an example for all of us but especially for educators, that for many students, their school stories do not define their future. Jelly Roll was not a national honor society, valedictorian, three sport athlete type of kid. However, his life story is made up by his why’s, why nots and what ifs just like the rest of us. Sometimes, students will challenge an educators’ ability to project positively about their futures. As teachers, administrators, simply as human beings, we are filled with our own life challenges and frustrations. We have our own Life Happens moments that we try to overcome. Students can add to our own stressors and create moments of regret for not being as understanding and supportive as we would like to be. I embarrassingly admit, I have let frustration make me less than understanding with a few former students.

This former teacher, coach now superintendent learned a lot from Jelly Roll. It was incredibly cool to be backstage and up close to watch this performance. Check that, it was an awesome experience. I was able to witness the frenzied work that goes on behind the stage in order to put on a major concert. The coolest part of the evening was being close enough to see the actual JOY on the faces of Jelly Roll and every member of his band. It was emotional to see him moved to tears when 25 thousand people started chanting his name. It was humbling to witness Jelly Roll’s loyalty to people that have believed in and supported him for many years before this not so “overnight success” and stardom.

The same young man that visits prisoners before shows in order to share that hope and change are possible, is the same young man that most likely created relief for teachers when he missed school. As educators we do not proudly admit, but secretly celebrate the brief moments of calm from the…

Jon Acton

Husband, Father, Former School Superintendent, National Blue Ribbon School Principal, Teacher, Coach, Author in progress