The message arrived in my email spam file and I almost
deleted it until I noticed it had an edu—education--extension. Professor
Marilyn Brown of Lees College in Eastern Kentucky has found my essays about Appalachia on my blog
Professor Brown’s class was mixed ages—18 through 50—and all
were local. I asked them what they had been discussing about Appalachia
I felt empathy for these college students as I have faced my
own challenges in receiving higher degrees, not beginning college until I was
36. In Appalachia
I read an essay to them about how my parents had not had the opportunity to complete high school but they had encouraged me to do much more. I never dreamed I’d one day earn two masters degrees and be teaching college courses. When I’d finished, I looked up to breath-held silence. They told me of their similar struggles.
After class, I went to lunch with the professor and a couple students. One student was an energetic woman in her early 40s and in college for the first time. Needing to return to work, she grabbed her bill. With tears in her eyes she said, “I’m just like you. I see that you have made it. That means I can too. You are my new hero.” I sat with a forkful of mashed potatoes suspended half way to my mouth, surprised—and humbled—by her words.
The strange thing is, I had been thinking the same thing about Professor Brown. To have one’s writing used in a class as study material seems an impossible dream. Yet, she took the time and made the effort to reach out to me. Of course I would come speak to her class. It makes me shudder to think I almost deleted that email.
In that class room, I watched the fearful expressions, heard the doubt in their voices: am I going to make it? Will I do better than my parents? One student asked: Do you think if the rest of the world were Appalachian it’d be better off? I told him a resounding yes. While we struggle as any humans, we do work hard, we are blessed with a sense of humor, we are dedicated to family and land. Maybe one more important quality is our empathy, our willingness to reach out to one another.