Inspirational People: Professor Stephen Hawking
His life and achievements
by Philippa Rae
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To celebrate the life and achievements of Professor Stephen Hawking.
Preparation and materials
- Gather some images of Professor Stephen Hawking and have the means to display them during the assembly (check copyright). Some examples can be found on Stephen Hawking’s website (at: www.hawking.org.uk).
- To find out more about Stephen Hawking's life, so you can answer questions, see the BBC's iWonder website's outline of key events (at: www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/zwjmtfr).
- Have available the song ‘I believe I can fly’ by R. Kelly or ‘Hero’ by Mariah Carey and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.
- Can you think of a time when you have felt helpless when dealing with a difficult situation? Has anyone ever said, ‘Don’t give up’ to you?
Sometimes when we face difficult circumstances it is very tempting to give up.
- Professor Stephen Hawking - one of the world’s greatest living scientists - is a fantastic example of an individual who has never given up. Instead, he has demonstrated incredible courage in the face of adversity.
- Stephen Hawking was born in January 1942. As a child and even into his teens, Stephen was considered lazy, being a late developer in getting to grips with reading and writing. It soon became clear, however, that he was highly intelligent, eventually gaining a place at Oxford University to study physics. Having graduated, Stephen moved to Cambridge to continue his research into cosmology.
- Just after he turned 21, with his hopes and dreams spread before him, Stephen was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is a form of motor neurone disease (MND). Over time, this condition has severe debilitating effects on most parts of the body, eventually causing paralysis.
Naturally, for Stephen the news was devastating and, at first, he was angry and shattered. It would have been easy for him to give up. Meeting and marrying his first wife at this time, however, as well as his passion for science and knowledge, plus the realization that some people were worse off than he was (he saw a young man die from leukemia while he was in hospital), gave him the courage to make the most of his life.
- Stephen went on to complete his PhD in theoretical physics and later became a professor at Cambridge and an author. He is now known throughout the world for his scientific work and discoveries.
- Over the years, Stephen’s physical condition has deteriorated, although he has lived many years longer than his doctors expected. In his forties, he had to have his voice box removed following a bout of pneumonia. This caused him to lose the ability to speak without the aid of a synthetic voice box. Today, Stephen is paralysed apart from a cheek muscle. He needs round the clock care, yet he continues to contribute to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, demonstrating enormous strength and courage.
- Like many people with disabilities, Stephen has never wanted his disability to define who he really is. Stephen is an internationally renowned scientist and a popular science writer who is best known for his work on black holes, cosmology and quantum gravity. He has released two autobiographies, written many books, including stories for children, he has been awarded 12 honorary degrees and a CBE. He has three children and three grandchildren and still travels widely and gives public lectures. He also hopes that one day he will be able to travel into space!
- Professor Stephen Hawking is an exceptional role model, in terms of both his outstanding achievements and in demonstrating unbelievable courage and passion for life.
Learning about his life story can motivate us to be the best that we can be and can encourage us to never give up on the things we strive and hope for. If you haven't seen it already, there is an excellent Oscar-winning film about Stephen Hawking’s life, called The Theory of Everything.
Time for reflection
Since his early twenties, Professor Stephen Hawking has faced many daunting challenges. Despite these, he has refused to let them stop him from living life to the full. Stephen is a great example, courageously facing life’s difficulties and never giving up, no matter what the circumstances.
Let’s pause for a moment to think about the following quote from Stephen Hawking:
Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.
How does this quote apply to our lives and the circumstances in which we find ourselves?
Please help us to appreciate all that we have and all that we are able to do.
We thank you for people like Professor Stephen Hawking who show such courage and are an inspiration to us all.
Please help us to never give up, but to always press on towards our hopes and dreams.
‘I believe I can fly’ by R. Kelly or ‘Hero’ by Mariah Carey