Meetings with Remarkable Men & Women: Dr. Christopher Bell
In May, Laurel Springs School was privileged to welcome Dr. Christopher Bell as the featured guest of our Meetings with Remarkable Men and Women Symposium. The accomplished educator, author, and TED speaker humorously informed Laurel Springs’ students and faculty that he would be discussing his favorite subject – himself – but the presentation that followed provided audience members with a number of valuable lessons as Dr. Bell’s detailed his personal journey from childhood to the present.
“Beginning At the Beginning”
The youngest of three children, Dr. Bell revealed he grew up an inquisitive and imaginative child, always asking questions and “living to play.” His intelligent nature was apparent to both his parents and educators early, and he was sent immediately to the first grade without completing kindergarten. By the time he completed first grade, he was reading at a fifth-grade level and had the understanding of Middle School-level math. Because of this, he also skipped the second grade.
Once he reached the fifth grade, Dr. Bell was identified as a gifted-and-talented student and he developed affinities for what would ultimately become his life’s work – comic books and cartoons. He fell in love with the idea that he would one day make his mark working in these channels.
As would soon become clear, life does not always go as originally planned.
When it came time to begin his college education, Dr. Bell had also developed an affection for cinema, and he went to college to learn how to write screenplays. After earning his degree, Dr. Bell moved to Los Angeles, where he began making connections with motion-picture industry professionals. After meeting Eliza Dushku as an intern on the set of Bring It On, Dr. Bell eventually secured a role as a screenwriter for the actress’s series, Tru Calling.
After completing two scripts for the show’s first season, the burgeoning Hollywood wordsmith learned the show was canceled and he was out of a job, an event that led to Dr. Bell’s lowest point. Dr. Bell shared that many writers in similar circumstances will simply begin shopping scripts in search of new jobs, but instead of feeling hungry to succeed, he could only feel devastation. To pay the bills, Dr. Bell became a Hall Director at a school in Southern California, but he spent a year and a half doing little in the way of writing.
Pushing the Walls
It was at this point, Dr. Bell was fortunate to have a friend and wife stage an intervention to remind him of his talents and true purpose. Although following through was at times difficult, Dr. Bell knew they were right.
Instead of continuing his pursuit of Hollywood fame, Dr. Bell headed back to school at the University of Colorado to earn his Ph.D.
Upon arrived at the university, Dr. Bell made it clear to school administration that he would only be completing his education on his own terms because it was what made him feel purposeful. Although he was met with resistance from some who maintained that the study of comics, cartoons, and popular culture wasn’t realistic, and no one could build a career writing about Harry Potter, Dr. Bell “pushed the walls,” asserting that he certainly could. Dr. Bell would go on to write his dissertation on American Idol, develop multiple books on Harry Potter, and currently serves as the Chairman of the International Popular Culture Association’s Harry Potter division, a position that never existed before him.
Push the walls, indeed.
Upon completing his doctorate, Dr. Bell was hired as a professor at the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, a school that hadn’t had a cultural studies department before he arrived, but he asserted that he would only teach the subject matter that he’s an expert in, which includes popular culture phenomenon like Harry Potter and Star Wars, as well as the messages contained within.
After establishing his career as a professor, Dr. Bell began to focus on the role of children’s media and the effects it has. His expertise in the area resulted in his invitation to speak at a TED Talk, a video that was featured globally and has since been viewed by over one million people.
Concluding his presentation, Dr. Bell was adamant that students not be held back by uncertainty, doubt, or the obstacles that make life difficult, stating that just because things aren’t happening the way you wanted, they are still happening. He implored students to simply work hard and dig tunnels in a different direction to get where you ultimately want to be.
Past Meetings with Remarkable Men and Women
Interested in learning more about our Meetings with Remarkable Men and Women Symposia? Check out prior event recaps, featuring guest speakers: