Rays of Light: Brandon Wilkerson

Hometown: Stelle, IL

Current Location: Quad Cities, IA/IL

Current Role: Math Teacher

Nominated By: Jill Humecke

Reason for Nomination: Brandon is the kindest, most genuine person I know. Not only does he work super hard as a teacher, coach, and grad student, but he continuously reaches out to others and brings laughter to the people around him. You can always count on Brandon to be there for his friends and loved ones. I’m so grateful to have someone so caring and supportive in my life, and I know many others that are grateful to have Brandon in their lives as well. 

Brandon and his girlfriend, Jill
PC: BW

Some may only know him as being the serious role model that he is because he’s so dedicated to his goals, but once you get to know him you realize how goofy and lighthearted he is. He’s crazy optimistic and is always spreading motivation. You know that when Brandon sets his mind to something that it will be accomplished, and you can always count on Brandon to support you in your own goals as well!

A Short Bio.

Brandon Wilkerson is a man of great heart, earnest passion, and humble beginnings. Raised in blink-and-miss-it Stelle, IL—a town without “restaurants, gas stations, and grocery stores”—Brandon learned to love teamwork and athletics from the very beginning. As a child, he dreamed of playing professional basketball, but “being 5’7”, scrawny, and only completely average” upended this dream before it ever took off. Still, he competed in varsity basketball as well as tennis, track, cross country, and scholastic bowl while in high school. With a graduating class of 23, Brandon’s high school “needed all the bodies they could get.” And surely Brandon was happy to oblige. After all, “sports were (and still are) his favorite thing.” Plus, what else was he going to do in his free time?

After high school, Brandon moved across Illinois to attend Augustana College. There, Brandon studied math education while running cross-country and track. Inside and outside the classroom, he shined. During his senior year, Brandon was nominated an “Academic All-American” and also awarded the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship”—both awards acknowledging his determination, hard work, and success in athletics and academics. Even more significantly, beginning his first days on campus, Brandon quickly earned the respect of his teammates and peers, living each day with kindness, grit, and determination to become his best self. For this, Brandon later served as a captain for both his track and cross-country teams.

Brandon & his family at his college graduation. PC: BW

Following his college graduation, Brandon accepted a middle school teaching position in the Quad Cities. He, then, quickly took on roles as the head cross country coach, assistant basketball coach, and assistant track coach at his new school. In addition to these activities, Brandon is currently pursuing his Master’s Degree in Education and Online Learning. Obviously, the pandemic has shifted his teaching and learning; but, not one to complain, Brandon is rolling with the punches, “making [new] video lessons each day.”

Brandon Wilkerson feels truly grateful to be where he is in life! He cherishes his friends, loved ones, sports, and teaching. As a result, Brandon feels truly excited for all that life holds ahead.

Q & A: The [Not So] Serious

BB: Hi Brandon! Thank you for taking time with me today. I am super excited to get to know you better and share that knowledge with the world! When looking to laugh, what (activities, settings, etc.) or who do you turn to?

BW: I definitely turn to my friends/family if I am looking to laugh. I love to laugh and will laugh at almost anything. There are a few people in this world who no matter what when we get together we will just end up laughing and having a good time. Those moments can happen anywhere, at any time and often come when not expected. Another thing I turn to is my favorite TV shows which never fail to make me laugh. My favorites being The Office, Parks and Rec, Brooklyn 99, New Girl, and How I Met Your Mother. I also turn to movies with silly comedy.

***

BB: You are an avid runner. In what ways does being a runner allow you to see the world differently?

BW: I think I appreciate a lot of things that maybe non-runners do not even think about. For example, the feeling of accomplishment after a hard workout, or the sweet taste of Gatorade and water after a hot summer run. Also, when you are out on a run, you can get away from technology and just think. It gives you a lot of time to be grateful and appreciative and I try to take those things with me outside of running.

***

BB: If you could design the perfect trail mix, what would you put in it?

BW: Hmm, I am surprisingly not a huge trail mix guy. But since I am designing it, I would put lots of chocolates in it. I have a very bad sweet tooth.

***

BB: Brandon, you are a math teacher. How has your first year of teaching shaped you as a teacher?

BW: Well, I have learned a lot about myself this past year. On the first day, a teacher’s aid thought I was a student. And yes this is only a middle school so I indeed look very young. Luckily, with the 6th graders I only have a few that are taller than me. On a serious note, I learned how many things are going on in a day. I see almost 70 kids a day and am trying to keep track of how they are doing mentally and emotionally while also trying to make sure they learn a little bit of math. It is tough and sometimes I feel overwhelmed. Luckily, I was paired with an AMAZING mentor and she has helped me a lot throughout this first year. I still have so much to learn but I am a much more confident person.

BB: What is your favorite unit to teach? Why?

BW: Well, I only teach 6th grade math. But within our curriculum, I think my favorite unit was going to be geometry but that got disrupted by our remote learning. I also enjoyed single step equations but I think my kids were less fond of that experience.

BB: How are you modifying to teaching to adapt to COVID-19?

Brandon prepares for his first day of class. PC: BW

BW: I created a YouTube channel and upload videos daily. I am up to 78 subscribers now so I am basically a YouTuber now. All jokes aside, I enjoy making the videos so the kids still connect to me and see my face every day. I try to have one quirk a day too so my kids have something to laugh about. Last Friday I pretended to be in a baseball game and to get a hit, I had to determine if a question was statistical or not. I think as silly as it is, it keeps some of the kids engaged. I also offer one on one video call meetings for whatever kids want it and we meet as a class every Friday.

***

BB: Imagine there is a Boeing 747 outside, waiting to take you anywhere in the world right now. Money is not a constraint. Where are you going and why? 

BW: I don’t remember how this started, but I have always wanted to go to Bora Bora. But also, New Zealand to see where they filmed Lord of the Rings. My girlfriend did a study abroad there last year and I was so jealous of all the cool places she went.

***

BB: If you could time travel, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

BW: Don’t take anything for granted. I remember thinking college was going to last forever. It FLEW by. I met some of the best people in the world and had some of the most amazing experiences. I wish I told my freshman self to be a little more outgoing to have even more. I would tell myself to appreciate every little moment.

***

BB: If you had to adopt a new accent for the rest of your life, what would it be? Why?

BW: Whatever accent my girlfriend finds the most attractive. Probably British? I feel like everybody loves a guy with a British accent.

***

BB: Tell about a recent moment when you felt proud to be you. Why do you think you felt this way? And what does this moment say about you?

BW: In cross country this year, we qualified our school’s first ever cross country state qualifier. I had never been in the coach’s shoes. I was so proud of the whole team but it was awesome to see all of her hard work pay off and accomplish a goal.

***

BB: If you were stuck in a parallel universe in which you could only listen to one musical artist for the rest of your life, who would you listen to? Why?

BW: Queen because they are my favorite band of all time. They have such a great variety of songs too! I never get tired of them.

The band Queen. PC: Rolling Stone

BB: Who is your favorite author? Favorite book? And why?

BW: My favorite Author is probably Rick Riordian. He was the author of the Percy Jackson series. I don’t often read books from just one author but I really liked that whole series growing up even if I haven’t read them in a while. My favorite book is Once a Runner. When I read it in high school, it inspired me to keep on chasing to be the best I can be and to push myself harder than I thought I could manage.

***

BB: In what ways do you see you’ve grown since graduating college?

BW: I’m more comfortable to be by myself now. I still love the company of good friends, but I am not reliant or dependent on it. I am more confident in my own skin and feel like I have an effect on people in this world.

***

BB: Imagine you and three famous people (dead or alive) are holed up in a Trans-Siberian Express sleeper car for the eight-day journey from Moscow to Vladivostok. What three people would you pick? How would you pass the time?

BW: This is a tough one. I would probably want some good story tellers to pass the time. I suppose Amelia Earnhart, Barack Obama, and John Mulaney. That’s an interesting group and we could finally find out what happened to Amelia’s plane!

Comedian John Mulaney. PC: Chicago Tribune

BB: What is your favorite candy?

BW: Now this is the million-dollar question. It is probably the chewy sweet tarts, but I love almost ALL candy.

***

BB: With modern technology and social media, it seems really easy to perceive others’ lives differently than they occur. Given this phenomenon, what do wish the world knew about you that they might not already know?

BW: I am a true hearted optimist. I try to see the world in the best possible way, almost to a fault. I always try to find a silver lining and I try to rarely complain. I try to live my life as if the world is a positive place even if it’s not. I feel like there is so much negatively, why not try to be against the grain in that regard?

Author’s Note: These words appear as they were first written. Brandon has approved this content. I had a blast getting to know Brandon more through this! Stay tuned for the next Ray of Light:)

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