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Topic: Graduation (08/30/04)
TITLE: No More Dog Food
By Brenda Blakely
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The crowd was gathering. We had been backstage making sure everyone was ready, gowns freshly pressed, make up and hair in place, caps put on straight and the usual cases of nerves calmed. All 14 graduates were lined up ready to accept the diploma that would mark this milestone in their lives.
It was time for the teachers and assistants to let their students go; now we could sit in the audience and watch even though we still held on to some anxiety for each one. Some had been our students for a short time, others, like Mr. Jim, had been with us for over three years, so we knew a lot about their life stories.
Watching the graduates file down the aisle as they marched to the step of the music, I looked each one over. I checked the smile, the dancing eyes, the hope expressed for a different future and a grocery bag carried by Mr. Jim. I kept expecting him to pass it to someone in the audience but he carried it all the way down the aisle and put it under his seat as he sat on stage.
During his three (3) year tenure as a student at the JSU Learning Center Mr. Jim had become a favored student. You wanted to know his story when you realized he was a sixty-year-old man struggling to learn to read and then later to get his GED. What made this man work so hard and give up his nights to be here in the Learning Center?
Mr. Jim said he had gone to about the 4th grade in school and could read before he had gone to work. Life had changed for him the day he got hit in the head with a log.
All we were ever told was that when he was younger he had been hit in the head by a log while on the job. When he came back to consciousness and realized that everything about his body and mind seemed to be working he didn’t want to miss any hours so he went on back to the job. Sometime after that he realized he was no longer able to read.
I don’t know exactly when or how he happened to realize that but he said the log had knocked his ability to read completely out of his head.
Mr. Jim stood before us now, not only able to read but ready to receive his GED diploma. It was a proud day for him.
When he stepped up to the podium to give his graduation speech before receiving his diploma, he brought that grocery bag with him. As he stood before friends, teachers, and other graduates he reached into the bag and pulled out two cans. One was a can of dog food, the other a can of cat food. He showed us the pictures on the cans and began to explain.
He had been eating the contents of these cans thinking he was getting canned meat. He had made hamburgers, meat loaf and sandwiches from the contents of these cans.
Mr. Jim concluded his graduation speech by saying, “Because I can read I no longer have to eat dog food, I can read the labels on the cans and buy what I really want to eat.”
I am sure I was not the only one with tears in my eyes as Mr. Jim collected his grocery bag and cans and stepped over to recieve his diploma that day.
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