Why am I here at Hopkins? Well, I put in the effort throughout my schooling, which put me in the position to be able to get into Hopkins. But that isn’t enough.
Why am I here? Well, my mother always instilled in me the values of education and hard work, and I had a somewhat easier road because I won the genetic roll of the die to become a physically and mentally able adult. But when I think about why I have achieved what I have, this isn’t enough either.
When I look back and reflect on what allowed me to be who I am today, I think of my grandfather, Gurney Chambers.
Gurney came from a very poor family in North Wilkesboro, N.C. His father died when he a child (after being incarcerated for a decent portion of Gurney’s life) leaving his mother to take care of him and his five siblings in a small, leaky, three-bedroom house.
Every Thanksgiving we go back to his childhood home, and he drives me around the countryside in which he used to live.
He’s driven me past the cow pastures he would walk through before the sun came up to get to his school bus. He’s driven me up the side of the mountain where he used to deliver tobacco leaves that his mother dried, nothing short of a five-mile trip each way. He’s driven me to the current residences of some of his siblings, all within five minutes of the house they all used to share.
Neither of Gurney’s parents finished high school,. None of his siblings went to college. For most of his life, it didn’t look like Gurney would either. But then, a miracle happened.
In his senior year of high school, Gurney injured his back. That doesn’t sound like a miracle, but to him it was. After the injury he got an insurance check, and instead of using it to fix his injury, like a normal person, he used it to pay for one semester at Western Carolina University (WCU).
You can’t do much with one semester of college, but he did so well that they asked him to come back. And then next year they did the same thing. By his senior year he was class president, head of this club and that organization, and on his way to Vanderbilt to pursue a PhD in education.
With this kind of success, I imagine he had his choice of institutions to start his career. But he went back to WCU and stayed there. Eventually he became the dean of the school of education. And in my extremely biased opinion, he was probably the best damn faculty member they ever had. Before I came to Hopkins, we went to a WCU football game every year. Without fail, we were stopped by person after person who wanted a chance to tell Gurney about the impact he had on their life.
Why am I here at Hopkins? I truly think it is because of him. For one, it is through his hard work that my mother was able to have the opportunities she did, and that trickles down to me. But more important than that is what he means to me as a role model. When I’m unsure, I always try to think about his loyalty, his compassion, his strength. In a house with just a mother, he is the best father figure I could have asked for.
Thank you for everything, Grandad.