Like far too many youth today, a boy grows up knowing poverty and hard times. This boy happened to come from Stotesbury, West Virginia, a rural Appalachian community, but he could have grown up in any struggling part of the nation. He defies the odds and graduates from high school. Financially strapped, he goes immediately into the workforce at low paying jobs. But at each opportunity, he moves himself up another rung of the education ladder. Constant self-instruction is mixed with formal education, when available. He reads voraciously and memorizes long poems as a form of mental discipline.
He becomes more successful, but never relents in reading and learning. Even when performing a fulltime and stressful job—and at an age when most people view formal education as a long ago experience-he attends law school at night, earning his degree at 46. Even afterwards, learning dominates his life. He writes prolifically, he paints, he plays a musical
instrument. Not forgetting where he comes from—or how he got to where he is—he constantly reminds people that education is what is changing his life and will do the same for them.
And he continually strives to provide education opportunities for others so they may have the same success.
This week we mourn the death and celebrate the life of United States Senator Robert C. Byrd. There is much to be heralded about his career. The longest serving U.S. Senator. The U.S. Senator who has held the most leadership positions. An ardent defender of the Constitution. An unchallenged master of the legislative and appropriations process.
His accomplishments are many, but his personal example is equally compelling. It was only through education that he moved from a mountain hollow to dominating the Capitol hallways.
There are millions of potential Robert C. Byrds living in today’s version of countless Stotesburys. Whether this country reaps the benefit of their potential accomplishment depends on the quality of education they receive. Senator
Byrd’s life was a constant demonstration of the transformative impact of education-both for the individual and the nation. As Congress mourns the loss of one of its epic figures, will it dedicate itself to providing the means for many others to attain the same success?