Monday, December 12, 2011

A Better Dream

My father did not grow up dreaming of being school administrator.

He was born during the Dust Bowl years and he dreamed of being a farmer. But back then, as now, farmers usually are farmers because they are born into farm families. Dad was born into a family that milked a few cows but didn't have enough land to support more than one son, and he was not that son.

So Dad became a schoolteacher, and because he had been shaped by genetics and circumstances to aim high and work hard, he became a topnotch schoolteacher.

He became such a good teacher (winning national awards) that he was recruited to the faculty of a newly-formed vocational-technical school, and within a couple of years he had been selected to be the school's director. It wasn't necessarily a great promotion; at that point the vo-tech had classes meeting in half a dozen classrooms across the tiny town where it was located and the final motion at every board meeting was that the business officer pay the bills "as far as the money goes." Honestly, no one would have been too surprised if the doors had quietly closed.

But my dad, who had dreamed of being a farmer, turned out to be spectacularly suited for his new job as the director of this school. He was organized and persistent, and he passionately believed in his institution's ability to prepare young people for the workplace, if they also were willing to aim high and work hard.

For 28 years he shaped the school, pushing it toward excellence with hard work and sometimes pulling it along with nothing more than his stubborn belief that the school needed to be better. Then, as he watched the campus take shape and students win national skills competitions and graduates make good lives with their new skills, Dad didn't let up. He kept pushing for better programs and better facilities, and for accreditation that emphasized quality. He still dreamed of farming, so in the early mornings and late nights he worked the land he and my mother had bought and where they were raising five children.

Last Friday, the day before Dad's 85th birthday, the vo-tech school (now a technical college) named its student union after Dad and Mom. The dedicatory plaque talks about Dad's "vision, commitment, and leadership," and about Mom's support of his vision. It doesn't list all the people whose lives were changed for the better because my father believed so strongly in vocational education; that list could have covered most of the walls of the building.

He might have been a fine farmer but that dream took a back seat to his vision, and thousands of graduates saw their dreams come true because his did not.

No comments:

Post a Comment