Thursday, August 3, 2017

Per Aspera

His last day of school was last week, 21 years later.

My mother told this story about Boy#2:

They were playing Yahtzee, and Two was keeping score. He would add up the dice throws in his head and enter the results on the scorecard, and Mom reminded him gently to write the numbers neatly.

"But Grandma," he told her, "they haven't taught us how to write numbers yet."

He was three, and sure enough, his preschool didn't work on numbers until they were four.

Numbers, though, were Two's second language. They spoke to him as clearly and expressively as words speak to the rest of us. He taught himself how to work percentages before he was in grade school, and by second grade his compassionate and creative teachers (we love you, Mrs. Helzer and Mrs. Taylor) were working to keep him challenged. He was taking high school math classes while in junior high, and finished two semesters of college calculus before he got his high school diploma.

I don't tell you this because I'm bragging about Two's math ability, I'm explaining that I understand why my friends didn't understand when I told them I was worried about him.

Two's graduate school experience was hard. He had earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, and loved the problem-solving nature of that combination of math and theory. But doctoral research is about expanding knowledge, exploring a topic rather than solving a problem. He struggled to get the kind of results his advisor expected, and for the first time in his life he didn't like school. He began to wonder if he was up to the demands of the program and considered walking away with his master's degree.

"Don't take yourself out of the game, even if your advisor isn't happy with you," we told him over and over. "Make him take you out--don't do it for him."

So when I asked my friends to put Two on their prayer lists when he was scheduled for milestone exams or defenses, they always thought about the kid who loved numbers.

"He'll be fine, there's no way he won't finish," they would say. We weren't sure. We had never seen Two in this position of insecurity; the numbers seemed to have stopped speaking to him.

But then last week, as Husband and I paced the floor half a continent away, Boy#2 went into a room with a committee of five brilliant academicians. For the next two hours he explained and defended his dissertation, and when those two hours were done, he had been approved to receive his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from one of the top universities in the nation.

I cried when I read the dissertation's dedication page.

"To my parents," it said, "for believing in me every step of the way, even when I didn't believe in myself."

And then Two added the phrase we Kansans know and love:

"Ad astra per aspera."

To the stars through difficulties.

The little boy who couldn't write his numbers had reached his goal, through difficulties, and he was right.

We believed in him every step of the way.

1 comment:

  1. Oh this teared me up! Congratulations Dr 2! Congratulations proud parents.