Give thanks for a superior educational system

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Commentary by Dr. Arthur Ogden

It is that time of year when all of us are reminded of the elements of our lives for which we are obliged to give humble acknowledgement and gratitude.

We are the first culture to so celebrate such acknowledgement on a national scale, and that fact in and of itself is an indication of just what and who we are.

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For some of us it has become ritualistic and even pedestrian in nature to offer up such thanks, and that fact in and of itself is sad.

I chose to make this a regular part of my daily meditation over a decade ago when I survived a heart attack, which prompted two flat-lines on the way to the hospital.

So I never lose sight of the fact that I am merely back here “on loan,” if you will, given the opportunity to strengthen my case when that final reckoning faces me in earnest.

Still, I felt a certain incumbency to share in this column this week some elements of the path of this traveler for which I am most humbly thankful.

Leading my list is a most gracious and loving God who has blessed me far more than my wildest dreams could have ever envisioned, who has allowed me a life filled with opportunity and challenge, and who has shown me a love of which I am most undeserving but for which I will constantly try to prove worthy.

Next on my list of thankful things is my wife, Elizabeth, whose wisdom far exceeds the chronology of her years, who endures my quirks and tolerates my proclivities, and who makes what I do seem important and worthwhile.

Her wit, her sense of humor, and her genius far over-shadow her beauty, which is a fifteen on a scale of ten.

A man’s treasure, an Egyptian friend of mine once told me, is his family, and if that is, indeed, the measure, then I am truly blessed.

For my eight children and my eight grandchildren have made me most grateful for their love and their individual achievements.

The occupational path a man has chosen to travel and through which he seeks to make a contribution is another element for which thanks must be articulated.

Here is where I start to fumble with words and phrases for there are so many to whom I am thankful to be here in Demopolis – Dr. John Johnson, President of Alabama Southern College, former Mayor Austin Caldwell and the City Council, who had the vision and the determination to create the Demopolis Higher Education Center, along with men like Mark Pettus, Chuck Smith, and Jay Shows among others who worked so diligently to make it a reality, all need to know that I thank them personally and collectively for the great opportunity to serve here in The City of the People.

And to Jonathan McElvey and Clif Lusk of the Demopolis Times who have suffered my ego enough to allow me to scribe this weekly column, thank you.

I take none of these opportunities lightly or for granted.

They are all blessings bestowed on a man with humble beginnings raised by a Southern Belle who preached that every chance was an opportunity, that every mountain could be climbed, and that life is what one chooses to make of it.

Ultimately, I have come to the obvious realization that one of the most significant elements for all of us who will take time this week to give National Thanks is also one of that Nation’s institutions most taken for granted – institutionalized education.

Just as we were the first culture to set aside a day for the specific designation of thanksgiving, so we were the first culture to acknowledge and mandate education as a requisite for the national development of its constituency.

It has made the difference between the success we have enjoyed as a free society and others which have inhibited education as an enterprise dedicated to the notion that only through institutionalized education can a society be truly free.

American education has become the standard of the modern world, the pinnacle for models in emerging nations, and the envy of cultures seeking to produce individual success within its borders.

And while I am critical of some of the machinations of our current education structures from time to time, the rudimentary fact is that we far exceed the rest of the world in our educational ventures – and the proof is in our political process, which allows the peaceful transfer of power, and in our economy, which bolsters the world economy.

So this Thursday as I am sitting at our ceremonial turkey dinner table, I will acknowledge all those elements cited here, as well as many others about which I will not bore you.

Still, the real test of my true gratitude is not the verbal or spiritual acknowledgement of their presence in my life, but as my wise wife has pointed out, it is rather in how I continue to nurture and to grow them.

This, I believe, is the real meaning of Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all, and may you, too, continue to nurture and grow your blessings not only this Thursday, but throughout the year.