The Graduate


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.

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5 Comments on “The Graduate”

  1. Mine, too. He was so thrilled by the honor. And it’s nice that in this day and age of big university fundraising, and big U sports, Mizzou still pauses to recognize somebody who helped them succeed.

  2. John, my wife and I went to church with B.W. for several years; what a kind and considerate man. We always enjoyed running into him on Sundays. He was one of the first people who welcomed us when we joined the church. Great, great man. Good luck with the new book.

  3. I’m just now catching up on your past blogs, but (and I think I’ve told you this before) your Dad was one of my favorite persons in the world. He must have been around 70 years old when we moved in across the street from him in 1990, but over the next 20 plus years he always had a kind word for me in the halls of the Capitol. He is greatly missed, especially in the building where civility, friendliness and a warm smile are greatly lacking.

    1. Thanks, John. You were one of his favorites, too. I’ve been back to the capitol maybe twice since he died. But we still have the old house…

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