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Jacob William Wright

Excerpt from: What Happened to Me (by Jacob William Wright)

     My college years were full, round periods of activities common to such interludes, based largely upon the undergraduate rule of "never permit studies to interfere with your regular work." My obedience to that law was faithful, and at no time during the college years was there any assurance that the more-or-less coveted sheepskin would be handed to me from the platformat Commencement. But that inexplicable good fortune which has dogged my footsteps through life stalked steadily beside me with its ever-ready arm to rescue me when oblivion in one form or another yawned to recieve me. In due course, despite every imaginable distraction that sought to prevent it, my diploma was handed to me.

     An incident occurred in my Junior year which was prized beyond any honor within the gift of my college and has been cherished with cumulative gratitude through the years. One of my professors whose long life had been devoted to the college invited me to his study in his home upon an appointed day and hour. Such "invitations" were usually viewed with alarm bordering upon panic. The summons gave me a distinct shock, especially as he was not my regular Class Officer, and might have been a special message-bearer from the Faculty. This looked anything but pleasant.

     Time can never erase the picture of his benign face as he spoke to me across the library table, and slowly, quietly unfoled to me the purport of the visit. He reviewed briefly my record to date, not at all flattering to me. Finally: "Wright, I asked you to come to me today to tel you that I have been watching you carefully ever since you entered college, and notwithstanding your record you can still be the Valedictorian of your class if you will settle down to work, good, steady, hard work." It brings a little catch in my throat even now, as it did then, with a realization of what he was saying to me, what he was doing for me, what it meant for this particular Faculty member to interest himself in my behalf.

     He waited patiently for my answer, sitting in that silent room whose walls were lined with messages handed down through the ages. Life has never held for me another moment like that one, as the consequences, the sacrifices, involved became clear to me. Finally my answer came, perfectly sure, but hardly audible and wholly irrelevant. My own voice sounded strange to me.

     "The Valedictorian of my class! That means no more boating up the river ... no more lazy hours stretched on my back among the autumn glories of Big Hill ... no more days afield with my bird comrades ... no more aimless wandering across wide, flower-strewn meadows ... no more gathering strength from Mother Nature for what may life ahead of me ... no more ... no more." A long pause; then: "Is it worth it, sir?"

     The look that came into his beloved and deeply-seamed face told me things from his heart that he could not summon to his lips. We were at one, this soul which even then could look across the years and see the trail's end, and the care-free youth who prized, as he did, the things of the spirit above the honors men can bestow. His mass of gray hair fell almost to his shoulders as he sat there, his head resting in his hand. At last he turned to me, looked earnestly into my face, then smiled frankly and wonderfully straight into my eyes, and:

     "No, Wright! It isn't worth it!"

     Someone else was Valedictorian of my class.

     But the benediction of that half-hour has many times sustained me through the years when there was a need for the confidence which sent me forth from his study with a strange new happiness and determination.

 

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