Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

Wednesday's Post

April 4, 2012

All of life’s lessons don’t come from books

April 4, 2012 —     Today I’m sharing a story about how I learned not to judge a book by its cover or a person by their current circumstances.

    My subject was an average guy, a typical college student, not a flashy dresser.

    But he was different from the rest of us guys in that freshman speech class so long ago at what is now Ashland Community and Technical College.

    In those days it was a branch of the University of Kentucky, a couple of years before the community college system was created.

    It was located on a one-building campus at 15th and Central in downtown Ashland, the former home of the long defunct Ashland Junior College.         The Ashland Center of UK was far down on UK’s list of budgetary priorities. We referred to it sometimes as 15th Street Tech.

    We didn’t have much in terms of equipment or a library but we had great teachers like J. B. Sowards, Jack LeRoy, and Nancy McClellan.

    My story involves Professor Sowards who taught that speech class. He also taught theatre so his classes were always entertaining.

    I teased him about his name because John Buckingham Sowards sounded more like the name of a great Shakespearean actor than that of a teacher in a tiny college.

    Like his other former students, I’m very pleased that the theatre at ACTC today bears his regal name.

    But back to my story about the friendly little fellow from Florida who said he came to Kentucky to live with his uncle at Summit and go to college.

    We invited him to parties, to water skiing, and to trips to Ohio where the entertainment was livelier and the beverages were stronger.

    He always declined, saying he had promised his uncle he would spend his spare time studying. He was a bookworm but we liked him.

    Finals week arrived and our professor expected us to give our final speech about ourselves.

    I almost fell out of my chair when our mystery man’s turn came to speak and he announced that he was an inmate at the federal prison at Summit.

    As an 18-year-old soldier, he had stolen a car from a military base and was serving a five-year sentence – in a place provided by his Uncle Sam.

    He was respected, even admired by all of his classmates, who had no idea of his personal situation. Our wise prof had agreed to let him take the class with us.

    I’ve often thought about that experience where a group of 19-year-olds learned much more than public speaking.

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