It took all I had to get him to graduation day.
Many families feel the same. You work. You worry. You save. You coach and encourage. You pray. And when they graduate, a very big part of you walks across that stage. They’re your children.
Been there, done that. But three years ago I saw my last graduate a little differently. He was my 92-year-old father. So my role in prepping him for graduation is greatly exaggerated. But I did help.
The degree is honorary. For his lifetime of achievements, the faculty and curators of the University of Missouri agreed to knight him with the school’s highest academic honor, an honorary doctorate of laws.
Obviously, I didn’t pay for his degree. He did. He paid for it with decades of sweat equity, from the beginning of his career as a teacher in a one-room school house, through his days as a school principal and superintendent, and ultimately as an architect of Missouri’s vocational education system.
When he received the news, he wondered how a humble school teacher, tempered in the humanities, would get an honorary doctorate of laws. I think I know why. As hard as he worked during his first 66 years, his star rose after retirement from his regular job. For a quarter century, he stood sentry as a doorkeeper in the Missouri Senate, rubbing elbows with a revolving door of senators and governors and business leaders and lobbyists. He enjoyed his job, greeting each person who walked through his door with a smile, a joke, a pat on the back. Even the ones he disliked.
And that’s where I helped. On those days in his 60s when he said he wanted to quit the Senate job, I told him he’d miss it. He agreed, and stayed. In his 70s, when he yearned to stay at home on cold winter mornings, I drove him to work. During his 80s, when he got angry that a stately Senate decorum was melting into melee, I urged him to keep his job. I knew the contact with people kept him invigorated. After all, you don’t stop being a teacher. And unless dozens of senators and lobbyists are lying to me, they got a certain vigor from him. He became a fixture, a living statue in that big hall of history, the state capitol.
I know, this essay strays perilously close to the category of “Wanna see pictures of my grandchildren?” Well, so be it. The stories of our parents and grandparents should be shared.