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Published:November 6th, 2007 12:09 EST
A Do-It-Yourself, Do It for Others - Never Ending Project

A Do-It-Yourself, Do It for Others - Never Ending Project

By Terry Sumerlin (Mentor/Columnist)

I have a soft spot in my heart for educators. This is primarily because I’m married to one. Sherry teaches tenth grade math.

But, I also feel this way because I know what a tremendous difference education has made in my life, and the difference it made in the lives of my parents.

Eddie Sumerlin, born April 6, 1922, was one of twelve children. He had only four or five years of formal education, because his parents needed him in the field instead of in the classroom.

He left the farm when he joined the navy, and became part of "the greatest generation." He served courageously aboard the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga and was awarded the Purple Heart.

I didn't know he received the honor until I began gathering information for my remarks at his funeral about five years ago. What I knew was that Dad had come home from war; married Darlene Sanders, his 16-year-old sweetheart, one month shy of her graduation; gone to work; reared two sons; and tried to forget.

Decades later, as Dad neared civil service retirement, he saw an opportunity to better his and mom's circumstances. Having been an automobile mechanic at Brooks AFB, San Antonio, Texas, he had a chance to retire as supervisor of vehicle maintance for the entire base. All he needed for the promotion was a high school diploma, which he (and mom) did not have.

They decided to attend adult education classes. It was a proud moment when, together, they received their GED. It increased their self-esteem and greatly improved their immediate and future circumstances.

Looking back to the time when I was in school, I recall a good home where Mom and Dad took an interest in our education. However, I don't recall education being a huge priority. I do recall that through substantial financial sacrifice, Mom and Dad put my brother and me through barber school (thus giving us a trade) and felt we could pay our own way through college.

When I enrolled in San Antonio College I was in for a rude awakening. I was told I would have to enroll in a non-credit remedial reading course in order for my registration to be accepted. I came out of high school reading 180 words per minute with 50% comprehension. I was virtually illiterate. Though I now read and/or hear several books per month, I completely read only one or two my entire twelve years of school.

I argued that I wanted to take only credit courses, though I had no idea how I would get credit for classes I couldn’t pass. But, having no choice in the matter, I took the reading course. It was so eye-opening that I then took the more advanced course, and have been reading “everything” I can get my hands on ever since. It truly changed my life.

Though I graduated Magna Cum Barely from San Antonio College, I did graduate. And, though in high school I graduated in the half of the class that made the top half possible, that has all changed because of good educators. What I do now as a writer and speaker is because, from educators like you, I learned how to learn. It’s also because I have never stopped learning. Be proud of what you do for our society as a professional educator.

Thus went my recent presentation (not verbatim) to the 350 conference attendees of the Arkansas Association for Continuing and Adult Education, and I meant every word of it. What I didn’t say, but should have added, is two-fold.

First of all, Henry David Thoreau said, “Formal education will make you a living. Self education will make you a fortune.” Likely what he had in mind is that learning is to never stop, and that it is a do-it-yourself project that has created great fortunes for many.

The second thing is that we are not rewarded for what we know, but for what we do with what we know - as relates to others. They, in turn, determine how much our knowledge is worth!

BARBER-OSOPHY: Be invaluable to others by always learning and by wisely using what you learn.

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