Why Have an Alumni Association?

An open letter from Dr. Hazeldean Meyers



My thirty plus years of working in education has taught me a lot, but one of the most fundamental things I have observed over those years is that there are many gold nuggets and diamonds in the rough in every school district and in every classroom. What troubled me the most during those years was the fact that for many of those potential and worthy students there was the lack of financial support to assist them to achieve that potential.


When I look back on my own school days,I recall many students, some whose name I can recall and most whose names I cannot; I wonder what happened to them. Why did they leave school? Where are they now?


And then I think of the times I spent with my other classmates. Back then, we were divided into four basic programs - college bound, business, home economics, and industrial arts. As I recall, teachers at that time paid more attention to the college bound, and in my class, especially the top four in the graduating class of 76 students. Did those top four succeed? Yes. Eventually they all earned college degrees or became successful business entrepreneurs.


But what about the other 72 graduates? Did they succeed? For the most part, yes. As I think about them now, I swell with pride at how they have succeeded. I wonder if my teachers back then saw the potential in those other 72? Did those classmates continue their education right away? Some went into the armed services and earned their degrees either during or after that service. Others had to wait a few years to increase their educational levels, but eventually a number of them earned a bachelor's and some a master's degree in their choson field of study.


As history has shown about the students in this district, the potential has always clearly been here, even if delayed. So what happened that many had to delay their higher education? A review of the recent economic history of Scioto County reveals that this part of the United States has been in a decline since the 1930's beginning with the loss of the brick fabricating kilns, shoe factories, shoe lace industry, railroad yards, and the steel mill. In many homes, money was an issue- as it was in mine. Colleges were far away and costly. Living away from home was expensive. Costs of books and supplies could not be met. Travel at that time was limited to bus transportation if your family did not own a car. And what high school graduate back then had a car? None!


Multiple problems faced aspiring students. There were no scholarshiips. Even if there had been, scholarship money covered only tuition fees - none of the other costs. The district had no scholarships, the county had none (at least not for Washington-Nile School District). There were no guidance counselors to advise or to find financial assistance for us. Families often did not support student's ambitions. As in my case, my aunt and uncle wanted me to go to work at the Selby Shoe factory - NOT TO COLLEGE. That factory closed five years after my high school graduation and one year before I started my teaching career. Where would I be today if I had taken their advice?


Working for the Ohio Department of Education, I traveled across the state visiting many school districts, interviewing teachers, counselors, curriculum directors, superintendents. I learned a lot. but especially I learned that students from rich, well-to-do districts had a distinct advantage over districts where financial resources were limited, such as those in this county, or Adams County, or Athens County, where Ohio Unversity is located but where fewer than five per cent of the students from that county ever get a college education. What a shock that information was! But then, there was this small, poor district in Licking County that was raising thousands of dollars to establish a scholarship fund for its students. A conversation with the curriculum director revealed that they had established an alumni group and graduates from the district headed the scholarship fund drive. They demonstrated by their actions that they cared about their own children and everyone else's in that district.


It was this district that inspired my thoughts to start an alumni group in my school disrtict-noted for being among the economically poorest in the state. Be being economically poor does NOT equate with intellectual poverty. One of the most famous examples of that is Jay Gould who was the son of a poor farmer. Jay Gould in his youth picked up along the railroad tracks chunks of coal that had fallen from passing trains to help his family keep warm, watched the trains go by, and dreamed of railroads. He grew up to be one of America's greatest and richest railroad owners and buliders.Jay Gould proved that being economically handicapped doesn't mean being intellectually short-changed.


We must learn that we are not intellectually poor. We are rich in intellect and our childrenhave inherited that intellect. We must look at ALL THE CHILDREN in the district and see the potential that lies within them --the gold and the diamonds. It is caring about are own and others that matters.


Reasons for an Alumni Group

Our perceptions of ourselves and others are very important. It helps to know our heritage. Many of us have come from proud, industrious heritage, but we may not realize it. It was only when I reseached my family history that I became aware of the fact that three-fourths of my heritage on this continent reaches back before the Revolutionary War, and the other one-fourth before the Civil War. I was amazed to learn my family has been here for such a long time. My self concept grew leaps and bounds as I had always thought after reading history books about the large Irish and German immigration of the late 19th and 20th centuries that were poor, recent immigrants. When I looked at the early census rolls, I recognized names of many families who still live in this area. Have you looked for your families on those early rolls? Our ancestors came to the Ohio territory from Virginia, Pennsyslvania, and other eastern states looking for work - many in the new iron industry that began with the old stone furnaces once located in this county, stone structured furnaces that smelted iron used in the Civil War an industry that later developed into the iron and steel industry where many of our parents and grandparents worked and helped to make this nation the great nation it is today. Those ancestors wanted a better life for themselves and their children. They were not afraid of the daunting challenges of a growing, industrious, prosperous southern Ohio in those early days.


An alumni group develops a sense of community, a sense of camaraderie, a sense of strength and a will to do. It provides a central focus, a purpose, a real sense of doing somthing good for otherds, fellowship with classmates, mini-reunions with others that were in school with us at the same time. It provides a time to reflect on the past, glory and achievements gainen, and plan for the future. Thus, it was that we wanted to direct the energy to establishing an alumni group to start a scholarship fund for our children. Social activities were secondary but would probably become the major source of funding.


Reasons for a Scholarship Fund

It was the Licking County group that inspired me to ask myself, "If other lower income districts in the state can establish scholarships for their studetns, thne why not in Washington-Nile School District?" Thay is when I approached your superintendent and suggested we give it a try. So why try?


There are many reasons for a scholarship fund. We try because we believe in the future of our nation, our community, and our children -everyone's children. We try because we believe in the fundamental goodness of humankind - a loving, caring community. We try because as citizens we desire to see our children and other people's children suceed in life. We try because we want to see them become active citizens in the local community and the nation at large and to bring their talents and skills to bring about improvements and to help others. Not that everyone or any one person must become famous, but that all can find a niche in which they can be successful and at peace with themselves, knowing they have done the best they could with their moment of time on this Earth.


As our ancestors settled here and rose to meet their new and daunting challenges, we must rise to meet the new and different challenges of our era. Foremost is the need for our children to educated to the highest level of their potential. It behooves us to encourge all our children in this community to seek higher levels for their education. Their future and the future our nation depends on it.


To do that we must start early in their lives and speak of the importanceof education. We must repeat it often. We must point to results from others.


Are there scholarships available now? Yes. Does the United States government help the poorest? Yes. Is that enough? No. Many families are borderline ineligible for those scholarships. And remember, thos scholarships do not cover all expenses.


Can a person succeed without a higher education? Yes. Without a doubt. Just look around. Those people, also had great potential and found success by finding an educational process for themselves that helped them be the achievers they are today. They had the intellectual potential to succeed and they found a way.


But do our children today need to search alone and long for success? Or can we as an alumni group work together to encourage them by showing that we care and that we care enough to put our financial resources (whatever they may be) behind them and say to them, "Here is some money. Go to college. Get an education. Be whatever you want to be. We have faith in you. You are a gold nugget to be refined into something beautiful and useful. You are a diamond in the rough, and when maturity and education have taken off the rough edges, you can achieve and be something great in your sphere of life wherever you may go and in whatever you may do."


As an alumni group, we must believe in all the children, for they all have potential. We just don't always know what that potential is or when it will come to fruition, but it is still there. It is our task, yes, even our obligation, to nourish each child as much as possible and offer each one a future through some form of futher education. We must develop in them a sense of the importance of a good, sound education at the highest possible level they can reach.


We must do more than tell them we care. We must show them and one way we do that is by raising funds for scholarships, saying, "Here, be all you can be. We believe in you and know you can." As the West Portsmouth Alumni Association, we can lead the way and make the path a little easier by supporting the scholarship fund and offering words of encouragement to the next leaders of this, our community.


How many more scholarships can this organization endow? You decide!


Dr. Hazeldean Meyers