The Gate of Opportunity

A mere 30 years ago tomorrow, I was seated — alphabetically between Terri Pickelsimer and Pam Pinyan — in a folding chair on the spacious lawn of the Berry College Chapel.
Then-U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell gave the graduation address. And, more importantly, then-college President John Bertrand gave us diplomas.
I remember the striped tie I wore; the mixed feelings of saying good-bye to dear friends; and the pride my parents expressed more with facial expressions than words.
College was an option neither anticipated nor prepared for in my house. But I had worked in a carpet mill, blown insulation into hot attics and mixed mortar for inebriated brick layers. I wanted something different.
My older brother Rob was a strong influence — and blazed the first-generation college trail ahead of me. With a patchwork of loans, grants, scholarships and part-time jobs we both made it to graduation and to graduate school.
So many opportunities for creative work, extensive travel and meaningful interaction with a wide variety of persons have resulted from my educational experiences. More than anything else, education is the defining difference for me.
My life was greatly enriched by caring teachers — like Dr. Jorge Gonzalez and Dr. Bill Hoyt — and a supportive community of friends.
The campus entrance at Berry has long been known as “The Gate of Opportunity.” Indeed it was for me.
Far up in hills of Georgia stands, Old Berry tried and true…
(The above photo is of Ford Dining Hall, a gift from Henry Ford. It was one of two dining halls during my student days . I chose to work there because of the building’s stately architecture and its proximity to women’s dorms.)


  1. John,
    Good words and a good reminder to all of us. Our opportunities for education should never be taken for granted. Although I never worked in a carpet mill, blew insulation into attics or mixed mortar, I did unload fertilizer trucks, change tires and batteries, work in a textile mill and a whole host of other jobs that clearly taught me the value of college and graduate school.

    Thanks for your reminder!

  2. Thanks, Glenn-
    Blessings on you and others who are dedicated to passing along good educational experiences to future generations.

  3. High School graduation was more memorable for me Than Furman. I remember alphabetically being just a few spots behind Charles Foster in 1971 at Gaffney High School. Things were runnin a little late and Foster hollered back to me: “Fox get this show on the road–as if I could do anything about it–I’m hurdlin out of this town.”
    Foster was in the Montreal Olympics in 76 and was head of Baseball for Atlanta Olympics in 96.
    Well that is my Commencement story.
    Two Psses:
    Furman is having a carnival with the Invite to Prez Bush, widely covered at Chronicle for Higher Education.
    I submit to you two movers and shakers in the progressive Baptist movement, have some Institution where you have influence invite novelist Ron Rash in the coming years. Trot him around to Mercer, Berry, even Wake Forest.
    Love for Dr. Jonas to be given a a guest spot at your blog here Johnny to do a piece of the Truett/Criswell Breakout at the BHHS last week in Atlanta.
    I didn’t make it but would love a report.
    You are two good fellows. As my friend Rash says on Page 202 of World Made Straight: “Smarts like yours just didn’t grow up like daisies in a bunch of Hogweed.”
    Good line. You may want to use it someday when you are called to do a Commencment address–insert smilie emoticon.

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