This I Believe

Nate - New Castle, Indiana
Entered on January 21, 2007

THIS I BELIEVE: Social Mobility

I believe in social mobility. My maternal grandfather, born in 1921, had an eighth grade education. My paternal grandfather, born in 1888, had only a sixth grade education. However, both married well. As such, my mother became a teacher and my father became a fifth generation teacher. Both grandfathers were born into large families with little means. At young ages, they had to quit school to help their families make ends meet. Both farmed in Indiana and also believed in serving our country.

My paternal grandfather was medically rejected for service in World War I, but as a self-made entrepreneur, sold war bonds during both wars, and was a County Commissioner (county executive) candidate during World War II. My maternal grandfather served in the Navy Construction Battalions (CBs) during World War II. From this experience, he learned his trade, and started his own successful contracting firm.

My paternal grandfather did not live to see me go to West Point, nor to see me be elected to County Council (county legislature), but would have been proud. Thankfully, my late maternal grandfather attended my graduations from West Point and the Defense Language Institute. A strong German-American, he was a man of few words, but was proud of me.

Now as a jet-set international MBA, married to a biology teacher, and with my brother an architect, married to a Registered Nurse, I often stop and remind myself that, without his Navy experience, my maternal grandfather may never have gotten off the farm, my mother may never have become a teacher, and I may never have been so fortunate. But I will never forget my rural, agrarian roots.

Social mobility can go downward, as well. I know of two sisters who were born to an educated, professional mother and high-wage father, but squandered what they had, did not value marriage or parenthood, and had their children taken away from them.

In high school, I remember “The Twins.” Their parents moved to Indiana from the hills of eastern Tennessee. Some of my friends made fun of “The Twins,” as they seemed rather “backwoodsy” to them. However, I got to know “The Twins” in sophomore English class and discovered they were so smart, they were actually very bored with high school. One became an attorney and the other a stockbroker. They are actually more successful than my friends who made fun of them! They are the greatest examples of social mobility in my class, but have not forgotten their roots. They still enjoy the occasional deer hunt on my parents’ farm. Witnessing the experience of “The Twins,” I strongly believe in the FIRG program, whereby first generation college graduates mentor college students from families where nobody has ever gone to college.

Throughout history, social mobility has distinguished the American experience from that of other countries, where it was often not possible or not allowed. This I believe.