Education has always been something important to me. Not just formal education, but self-education. I love to read and I love learning anything new. It hardly matters what it is, I just like learning new things. This powerful yearning comes from both sides of my family. My father has a PhD in Education and was the first in his very large immigrant family to graduate from college.
But it's my grandmother who had the most heroic battle and burning desire to learn. My maternal Grandmother's name was Dorothea Wray Shanko. She was born in 1901. She is the only one of my four grandparents who was born in the U.S.
I'm not certain of the details but for whatever reason, she never went to school beyond the third grade. I was told it was because in those days a little girl was not valued beyond being a potential wife to someone one day and all little girls were good for was chores. So my grandmother was essentially illiterate for the first half of her life.
At some point in the fifties, she grew weary of the boredom and embarrassment that comes with a very limited vocabulary and she bought herself a Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. The book was hardcover, about 7" x 10" and about 3 inches thick. She proceeded to read every single page. She improved her vocabulary remarkably and, I'm sure, her self esteem as well.
After the dictionary, she wasn't satisfied with just a great vocabulary so she bought herself the complete 1958 Funk and Wagnall's encyclopedia. This was during a time when salesmen went door to door selling these books. My grandmother bought them and by the time I came along in 1963 she'd read through the entire set...32 volumes...every single page.
She kept her skills sharpened by playing Scrabble for hours with anyone who would sit down with her for a game or two. When she didn't play scrabble she worked crossword puzzles relentlessly. I would guess that my grandmother with her 3rd grade education, probably had the vocabulary of at least a college Junior. She was sharp and smart and amazing for someone who had absolutely no formal training whatsoever.
I wish my grandmother could be with me when I graduate. I know she'd be proud...and beyond that I think she'd feel a sense of personal fulfillment that her grandson did what she always dreamed of doing...kept learning long after most people stop.