You know, I started college way back in 1984, and am set to go back again. Now as many of you know, going to college is not easy. However, I was blessed to have a “Full Ride.” That means I didn’t have to worry about money; the way was made for me to go. The largest piece of money I got was through what was called the Michigan Education Opportunity Grant, which paid most of my way. College tuition may have been about $7000 in the ’80s, but that was still expensived to me. But grants made it easier.
While in my case it was only a drop in the bucket, the Pell Grant was a grant which played a key role in making my journey through college just a little bit more bearable.
I was not prepared for college. Regrettably, at Michigan, much of my time there was spent looking for “love.” But my grades were soso–just enough to keep me from getting booted from college.
I was not focused as I could have been. I remained officially undeclared til my senior year at University of Michigan. In the very hot summer of 1988, I declared English. The best decision I have ever made. It paved the way for me to become a writer and a teacher.
Throughout all this time, the Pell Grant was still there for me, although I did not know what the man who was, at least indirectly, one of my benefactors, looked like. I do know this: He would probably have been very disappointed in my conduct as a college student back then–the classes I cut, the not really applying myself, etc. Sorry Mr. Pell, in some ways I let you down. I wasted your money. Wherever you are, I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.
But the time came when I was no longer eligible for the maybe five-or six-hundred dollars I would get from the Pell part of my financial aid. It may have only been a “drop in the bucket,” but it darn sure helped this college student.
As time wore on, I learned about the man whose name was behind the grant. A bespectacled, thin New Englander by the name of Claiborne Pell, the Democratic Senator from Rhode Island, who ended up serving 6 terms, from 1960-1996. Quite a career.And why was this man so popular that he ended up spending six terms on Capitol Hill? One thing which helped is that he defended the interests of people trying to get ahead, such as college students like me.
I owe a tremendous debt to Mr. Pell. He hasn’t spent a day in the Senate since 1995; unfortunately Parkinson’s, diagnosed in 1994, took that from him, as well as his realisation that he was getting older.
Did you know that I did not know he had retired? He had been gone from politics for 13 whole years until I knew that he was no longer on the scene. It took his death, and the reading of the obituary that Eric Tucker had done on him to know that he had been ill for quite awhile. Indeed, diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s take their toll on the human brain. They can reduce a person to a near vegetable who does not even know family members let alone friends and associates any longer.
I was saddened to learn of his New Year’s morning transition at age 90. While that must happen to all of us sometimes, it still brings a certain amount of sadness when you hear that such a distinguished, if somewhat obscure, yet significant–figure like Claiborne Pell has passed from the scene.
Senator Pell, 90, is gone. But his legacy–the grant that has borne his name since 1980–lives on.
Rest in peace, Mr. Pell. This is one former college student who will be forever grateful to you. Had it not been for you, I would have not been able to study English. Had I not been able to study English, I would have never learned to write well. And if that had not happened, I would not have this job as a freelance writer.
I will think of you every time I teach or write. Thank you very much.
Tucker, Eric. Associated Press Article, 1-02-09.