Wisdom and a Sixth-Grade Education

This particular post has been kinda churning around in my head for the last few weeks. We’ve had a couple of education milestones in our family since the end of April and I have been thinking about those accomplishments in light of my Granddad’s wisdom.

Grandaddy was born into a family of 10 other brothers and sisters in 1908, rural Mississippi. Although I intend to do so later, I won’t use this post to talk much about his upbringing or family life. However, with that background, you can know that his boyhood ended quickly and being a man was demanded early on. He worked on the family farm, shined shoes, and began a 49-year career in a textile mill when he was 16. This lifestyle afforded precious little time for formal education; he left school after he finished sixth grade. His occasional struggles with the wording of some of his theological reading (which he did as a practicing follower of Jesus Christ) and some math problems were frustrating to him. He would use these occasions to talk to my sister and me, particularly as we moved past sixth grade, about finishing school. “Get all the education you can!” he would often say. His lack of formal education was not, however, any hindrance to his gaining wisdom and being one of the most compassionate, ‘willing-to-learn’ people I’ve ever known.

I did not do what I should have when time to go to college came around. I graduated high school in 1981, and then spent the next few years putting in minimal study time on a petroleum engineering degree and generally wasting opportunities. My fault, my responsibility, completely. After a long 5 years of floundering about, I left college. During my university years, I did learn several valuable things: a good education, formal or informal, does not come without hard work; the same Jesus with whom my grandfather had a personal relationship was just as available to me; and, a wonderful wife is a good thing to find.

Fast forward to 2007, and I get the opportunity to return to college and finish what I should have finished 20+ years prior. I graduated in 2009, with an interdisciplinary bachelor’s in agriculture and economics then moved on to grad school. This year, on May 11, I received my M.S. in Agricultural Economics and my youngest son finished high school a week later. Further, my oldest son begins his final year of studies toward a degree in chemical engineering. He will be, as my wife and I, a graduate of Mississippi State University. It is the same place I started back in 1981 and the same place I met my wife.

The real story, though, is about my youngest son’s high school graduation. As we were all preparing to leave the house and go to his graduation ceremony, I felt like he and I needed a short talk. We have those often. This day, I was able to shore up this talk with a bit of a visual prop. Grandaddy left a legacy of Christ-like love, compassion, and kindness for me to follow. That’s the important stuff. Materially he left very little but I did inherit his service awards from his time with Erwin/Burlington Mills. So, on this graduation night for my son, I was able to share my grandfather’s 25 Year pin with him. Grandaddy earned this pin in 1949, at the age of 41, for his dedication to his job but more importantly earned the respect of everyone he worked with because of his conduct. My son wore the pin on his shirt, under his gown and the regalia he earned for his hard work—honor cords and National Honor Society stole. It not only gave me the perfect time to talk, again, about the importance of education, it was an open door to talk about Grandaddy’s feelings about education and his ability to stick to a task until it was completed. Grandaddy’s perseverance, supported by his faith, was how he worked 49 years at the same company, married during the Great Depression, stayed married for 62 years ’til his death, and raised 4 kids as well as my sister and me.

Graduation is a good milestone, be it high school, undergraduate, or graduate. I look forward to possibly pursuing a PhD soon and may even see my kids or grandkids do the same. No matter, I won’t forget the importance of constantly being open to learning, “getting all the education I can”, and leaving the kind of legacy that was left for me by the wisest man I’ve ever known.


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