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Letters to grads and their parents


May 29, 2019
Dear Reader, my parents were born in Appalachia in 1922. Dad completed eighth grade. He fought in Guam with the Marine Corps. Mom graduated from high school and riveted airplanes in Akron, Ohio. They married in March 1945.

Thanks to the G.I. Bill, Dad earned his barbering certificate, the key to his financial success. Mom used her culinary skills to cater dinner parties for our family doctors.

During my parents' divorce in 1967, my college prospects looked dim. Dad wouldn't co-sign for a student loan. "Iris, you'll never finish college," he said.

Although it hurt, I forgave Dad. With losing his family, home, and car, he couldn't risk another debt.

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Before I graduated from high school, Dad and his meager earthly possessions vanished from our home. He didn't attend my commencement ceremony. Neither did Mom.

The Bank of Commerce hired me as a runner for tellers. Dad dropped me off. Mom picked me up. I saved enough wages for one semester at Central Michigan University in February 1968. Dad carried my belongings into my dorm room, a gesture of newborn hope for my future.

Preoccupied with her man-friend and four dependent daughters, Mom faded from my life. I cannot remember one phone call while working summers away from home.

A mentor helped me obtain the National Defense Education Act Loan, my key to knowledge. The debt was mine to pay.

With Vietnam hovering, I married the man of my life in January 1970. Dad feared I'd fulfilled his prediction of a college dropout.

Eighteen years later, Mel and I hosted our firstborn's backyard graduation party. She had earned a partial college scholarship for track and cross-country. My husband and I co-signed for a student loan and contributed what we could.

Tragically, substance abuse derailed her beautiful life and higher education. She disappeared for months. We seldom knew her whereabouts.

Meanwhile, our middle daughter disciplined the balance between academics and extracurricular activities to the minute.

Same mother. Same father.

I'd invade her bedroom and bribe her with a cup of hot chocolate for some alone time with her. She watched the clock and reaped the dividends- Salutatorian of the 1993 graduating class of Romeo High School.

Spring of 1997, after we buried my father and our prodigal daughter, twenty family members attended our honor student's college commencement. Her proud Grandpa picked up the bill.

Our youngest daughter shunned homework. When able, my husband and I supported her college fund. We'd learned not to risk debt.

In 1998, thirty years after I graduated from Lincoln High School, I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree. The following spring, I waved to my baby, a glorious smile on her face, as she walked past our aisle in her cap and gown.

I've come to believe forgiveness and wise mentors lay the foundation to a resourceful and peaceful life. Although capable in many ways, parents cannot provide their child's every need. That is not our place.

This is a mystery. God permits challenges for good, to grant us mercy, the joy of liberty to achieve in our own time.

Email Iris at irisleeu@sbcglobal.net.

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