As my youngest sister’s name was called by the graduation announcer, my eyes welled with tears and my heart swelled with pride. When she walked across that stage, we (the entire Holloway family) walked across that stage in spirit. Her graduation was a milestone for a number of reasons but two stand out the most in my mind-the high cost of a college education and my grandparent’s humble beginnings.
My parents, a Baptist minister and a Christian school teacher respectively, were blessed with five children. My mom taught for eighteen years at the private, Christian school that we all attended in order for us to be able to attend and receive a well-rounded education. Between raising five children-sports, braces, medical-and paying the bills, there was no extra money available to save for college.
When the time came for me to head to school, we all trusted that the bill would get paid through the combination of a small scholarship, help from the extended family, on campus work opportunities, and working Christmas and summer breaks at Chik Fil A. With fondness, I recall fifteen of my family members dropping me off at school my freshman year. As the oldest of 5 children and 11 grandchildren, you could say that the occasion was a pretty big deal. The next four years were a blur and it was a struggle financially at times but I graduated virtually debt free with a job offer in Hawaii.
From 2001 until 2017, one or more of my siblings has been in college. Some years, two kids were in college while two were still attending private school. Additionally, there is a twelve-year gap between my youngest sibling and I. We took our graduation pictures as a high school senior and a kindergartener together. There were times when it didn’t seem like one of us would be returning to college the next semester but EVERY TIME God and family came through and the need was met. My hard-working parents sacrificed in ways that we as kids will probably never know and because of their efforts all five of us completed our undergrad degrees in four years with no debt.
To understand why education means so much to my extended family on my father’s side, one has to know my grandparent’s stories. My grandfather came from a large family of nine and my grandmother’s biological mother died in childbirth. Both grew up in the South under the burden of Jim Crow. Neither were able to finish high school due to family responsibilities and the need to work to make ends meet. They both worked long hours at mills for decades while raising my father and his four siblings. While they never completed high school, they made education a priority and purposed that all of their children, my dad and his siblings, would go to college. All five of their children graduated with their undergrad degree from the same local university and several have gone on to get their master’s degrees from other schools. The premium placed on education and the spirit of perseverance started with my grandparents who instilled it in their children who in turn set the same standard for their children.
This year, my sister was the tenth grandchild to graduate college. Many of us have traveled across the country over the years to graduations at Clemson, UCLA, UC-Davis, San Diego State, Crown College, and Pensacola Christian College to support each other. Although not as many family members were able to travel to my sister’s ceremony a few days ago, we were ALL there in spirit and online.
Some of you follow this blog for my thoughts on politics and government. My family, like most, spans the spectrum of political ideologies. However, there are some universal principles that apply to our story.
First, nothing can replace the importance of family in the formation of character and in the sustaining support that they provide to each member.
Secondly, every individual has to take responsibility for themselves and their advancement. Family is important but each of us had to have the grit and determination to stay the course and graduate from college for themselves.
Thirdly, the American dream is alive and well. Only in America could a family who started out in such an inauspicious manner overcome seemingly insurmountable odds in one generation.