My father was far from a highly educated man. I’m not sure exactly how much schooling he did have, but considering that he came from an area (the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee) during a time (the first half of the 1900’s) when “higher education” might have meant a lot of boys and young men worked the woods or the fields or the mines instead of sitting in a classroom, it’s probably a safe bet that his academic learning didn’t extend much if any beyond the single-digit grade level.
I don’t know these things for sure because I was never able to talk to my father about it. He died in a mine four months before I was born. If you’d like, you can read that story here. I carry on my father’s name.
I had an older brother named Curtis. He was never able to attend school himself. He suffered from a severe case of cerebral palsy and died at the age of 10 in 1968. That story is in my book as well. My oldest son carries on his first name, and his middle name — Grant — comes from an uncle on his mother’s side who also passed away much too soon, before reaching his full potential.
My oldest son graduates with honors today from the University of Utah, earning a bachelor’s degree with a double major in economics and statistics. His graduation is nearly 20 years to the day after I walked with him hand in hand across a stage to receive an associate degree in computer software engineering at Idaho State University. He was 3 years old at the time.
I took Curtis with me on to that stage to symbolize a thing or two at least. It was a new beginning, people working their way up from the most basic roots to achieve something of significance, emphasizing the importance of a good education and hoping it’s the start of a continuing trend, putting in the best effort possible.
My associate degree represented the start of a second career for me. My first career saw me working as a journalist, writing and editing. It was a far cry from writing computer programs, and when my return to school was in the early stages I wasn’t sure if I’d make it. It required a complete change in my way of thinking. But I persevered, got the hang of it, earned a couple of scholarships, and ended up with a 3.90 grade point average and a place on the dean’s list.
Now, Curtis has me beat. And I couldn’t be happier or prouder about that.
I remember a time — maybe around the age when he accompanied me to receive my degree — when we were visiting my mother in my hometown. She watched her grandson focusing intensely on an activity, and she chuckled in delight. She observed that he was a deep thinker, concentrating so hard on how something was supposed to work, and mastering it.
Those days were just the beginning. Through Curtis’ growing years, there was a question of what he might choose to do with that inquisitive brain. Would he be a scientist? Go into law and/or politics? He could draw very well, and with his musician mother pushing him to take lessons until he was 18 he became a talented piano player. I remember teaching him some of the basics of computer programming while he was still in elementary school as he tried writing code.
The kid had serious brains in that head. Nothing’s changed to this day. Where I finished with a 3.9 GPA, he’s finishing with a 4.0 (not surprising seeing as how he’d stress over any grades that were less than perfect). Where I served a couple of years as a student government representative, Curtis was in the running for a while to be a valedictorian at a larger university. I got some help in paying for my education from some scholarship money. His grades have earned him full rides. We’ve both worked side jobs in school as tutors, and now Curtis has been offered a chance to teach at the U this summer before he moves on to a Masters program. He’s worked as an intern at a prestigious law firm in Washington, D.C.
I walked across that college graduation stage 20 years ago, filled with hopes and dreams as Curtis held my hand. He’s taken those hopes and dreams and surpassed them.
He’s done it largely through that inquisitive, deeply focused mind that his grandmother Miller talked about years ago.
My lovely wife Amy and I are proud of all our children, we love them all deeply. Each of them has unique qualities and gifts. But today is Curtis’ day to shine. If we could, we’d show that pride through some kind of materialistic reward for all that hard work — a new car, a nice vacation, something like that. As it stands, we’re working just to survive from day to day given the means that we have, hoping our own situation improves. Curtis has a very bright future ahead of him, given the chance.
What we can give him is a gift that tells the world how proud we are of him.
His namesakes would be proud of him as well.