For many, the end of 2016 can’t come soon enough. It’s been excruciating at times, testing our resolve, pitting us against one another, taking a generation of beloved cultural icons. Merriam-Webster named “surreal” its word of the year, which sounds about right.

Even as we say good riddance to 2016 — and we seem to have forgotten we were pretty eager to see the end of 2015, too — there’s uncertainty and trepidation about what awaits us in 2017.

Yet here at Inspired Life we’re fortunate to meet people who are the very best of humanity, whose stories make us sigh with relief that people like them exist in this world. Whether it was the uplifting ways they approach their own lives; or the selfless way they care about others, these are the people worth remembering as we reflect on 2016.

We’ve compiled a list of 11 such stories about individuals who inspired us most this year. It was a challenge to narrow it down, which was also a heartening reminder of how much good there is out there.

No matter what 2017 has in store, one thing is certain: There will be more stories like these to tell.

Marc Edwards


Marc Edwards, Charles Lunsford Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering, Virginia Tech.
(Photo by Jim Stroup)

The Virginia Tech environmental engineering professor came to the aid of Flint, Mich., residents, testing hundreds of water supplies that showed the worst levels of lead he’d ever seen. With his own time and money, Edwards stood with the people of Flint, who had been largely ignored by the local and state governments. He made his findings public and helped expose a major health crisis.

Gwen Hartley


Gwen Hartley and her daughters Lola and Claire. (Courtesy: Gwen Hartley)

At the height of the Zika scare, this young mother spoke up about the joys, and the pain, that came with raising two daughters with microcephaly. Until then, most news coverage about the birth defect was terrifying. Hartley wanted to show the world that despite the challenges, her family was still beautiful.

Virginia McLaurin


106-year-old Virginia McLaurin in Busboys and Poets on Feb 22, 2016, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kate Patterson for The Washington Post)

When this centenarian, who grew up picking cotton in the segregated South, danced with the Obamas at an African American history month celebration at the White House, she stole the nation’s heart with her infectious energy and sheer glee as she met the first black president. The day after the video clip went viral, McLaurin told The Washington Post, “It was the joy of my entire life. I can die smiling now.”

Cpl. Kirk Keffer


Jourdan Duncan and Benicia Police Cpl. Kirk Keffer. (Benicia Police Department)

A Northern California police officer spotted a teenager walking near a highway overpass late at night. The 18-year-old was walking home from work seven miles away, which amounted to almost a five-hour round-trip commute by foot a day. Keffer was so moved by the teen’s determination that he and other officers chipped in and bought him a brand new mountain bike — a gift that changed the young man’s life.

Michael Vaudreuil


Michael Vaudreuil on graduation day. (Courtesy: Michael Vaudreuil)

He lost his construction company during the economic recession, so he took the only job he could find as a night custodian at a local college. The pay was bad, but there was one perk: free tuition. So Vaudreuil took undergraduate classes for nearly a decade and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering. A month later, he landed a job at a multibillion-dollar aerospace manufacturer. 

Terri Roberts 


Terri Roberts holds a photo of her son, Charles Carl Roberts IV, who shot and killed Amish girls in their schoolhouse 10 years ago. (Colby Itkowitz/The Washington Post)

After her son shot and killed Amish schoolgirls, she was embraced by the Amish community in a remarkable display of true forgiveness. In the decade since, Roberts has invited the families to her home, has cared for one of the girls her son left in a vegetative state, and befriended an Amish boy who was in the classroom that day and still blames himself for not doing more to stop the attack.

Mayor Richard Berry


Mayor Richard Berry on a lunch break with workers hired through the ‘There’s a Better Way’ program. (Courtesy: City of Albuquerque Mayor’s Office)

As mayor of Albuquerque, he came up with a program that was mutually beneficial to the city and to its homeless population. Multiple times a week, the city hires panhandlers for day jobs and pays them an hourly wage, provides a lunch and offers a place to shower and sleep at the end of the day. The city also connects the workers to other services to give them further tools to find steady employment and housing.

Amy Marlow


Amy Marlow with her dad. (Photo courtesy: Amy Marlow)

After her father killed himself when she was 13, she hid her feelings about it until all the pain boiled over and she found herself in a deep depression. In a first-person essay, she shared her story for the first time, her courageousness giving voice to mental illness and helping others in similar situations feel less alone.

Brian Mosteller


Brian Mosteller, special assistant to President Obama and the director of Oval Office Operations, in front of the White House on Feb. 8, 2016. (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

A hidden force behind President Obama, he was content never getting any of the glory, although he has one of the most important roles in Washington. Mosteller’s job is to anticipate the president’s wants and needs so that any given day in the White House can run smoothly. He was present for almost all of the biggest moments in Obama’s presidency, but until this year was almost completely anonymous.

Ed Shoener


Katie Shoener (Courtesy: Ed Shoener)

When his daughter, Katie, died by suicide, he honored her life by writing an obituary that was honest about her bipolar disorder and cause of death. A deacon at his church, Shoener wanted his community and the world to understand that his daughter was very sick, but her life was so much more than her illness. He wanted to do his part to erase the shame long associated with mental illness.

Robb Nash


Robb Nash’s tattooed arms. (Courtesy: Robb Nash/Facebook)

He’s a musician who travels to schools to give presentations on suicide awareness with a message to teens that they are not alone. It started organically, but now it’s become painfully common for kids to hand him the suicide notes they’ve been carrying in their backpacks or jean pockets or wallets. So, Nash took the 120 notes he’s received and tattooed his entire arm with the kids’ first names. Now when he presents at schools, he holds up his arm to show the other kids the names of their peers who thought about ending their lives, but who are still here.

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