The day Alex Sheen buried his father, he also started an international movement.
Then a 25-year-old working in corporate software, Sheen was asked by his family to eulogize his father, UT alumnus Wei Min “Al” Sheen, a pharmacist who passed away in September 2012.Calling Al Sheen an “average man who was exceptional at one thing,” Sheen, of Lakewood, Ohio, said his father was someone who kept his promises. “Too often, we say things like ‘I’ll get to it’ and ‘tomorrow,’” Sheen noted in an excerpt from his website, becauseIsaidIwould.com. “One day, there is no tomorrow. The promises we make and keep and those we choose to dishonor define us and this world.”
That day in 2012, he handed out the first of his promise cards, nondescript pieces of paper that remind people of the value of commitment.
Sheen will have plenty of promise cards during his public lecture Thursday, Feb. 16, in Doermann Theater. During the free, public event, the final of the 2016-17 Jesup Scott Honors College Distinguished Lecture Series, Sheen will discuss the importance of accountability and the effect of a simple kept promise in today’s society.
“Because I said I would” will begin at 7 p.m.
Sheen said handing out the first promise cards “set off a chain of events to the scope of which I may never understand.”
The purpose of the cards is simple; house a written promise as a tangible reminder to fulfill a pledge. Since 2012, becauseIsaidIwould has distributed more than 5.6 million promise cards to people in 153 countries.
Some of the promises, Sheen said, are small: “Keep my room clean” and “Sincerely compliment someone every day.” Others have the capability to enact change and even save lives.
A woman donated a kidney to an acquaintance. A teenage girl testified against her attacker. A man with terminal cancer left daily “napkin” notes for his daughter so she would have comfort after his death. On YouTube, another man confessed, “I killed a man,” explaining he was the drunk driver whose actions resulted in the death of a stranger. The accused’s promise? “I will take full responsibility for what I have done.” While the man is in prison, the video he made with Sheen has been viewed by millions and has spurred thousands of promise cards from people pledging not to drink and drive.
Sheen practices what he preaches. His own list of promises is current, visible and ranges from the innocuous — “Watch ‘Gone With the Wind’” — to the exceptional. He has walked 240 miles across Ohio to support victims of sexual violence, spent 24 hours picking up trash in the Cleveland area, provided 24 hours of free rides for those who have been drinking, and raised enough funds to send 20 cancer-stricken children to Walt Disney World, all on the spark of a promise.
“Alex’s work is the perfect antidote to our busy lives, during which we forget to think about meeting longer term goals and commitments to ourselves and to others,” said Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College. “Turning this into a social movement was a brilliant step to help us collectively meet our promises, and provides great inspiration for would-be social entrepreneurs among our students.”
Sheen’s movement has expanded to include the development of city chapters and outreach to schools, businesses and other organizations. His message remains uncomplicated: Accountability. Character. Hope.
“Make and keep a promise,” Sheen wrote on his website, “to improve yourself, your family or your community. If you need a promise card to make the commitment real, we will send you one. The world is in need, so you are needed.”
To reserve a free ticket to the lecture, go to utoledo.edu/honorslecture.