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An Educated Person

The college years are a time for many decisions. It's not just having to choose among courses and programs and activities. University provides a setting to deal with deep issues in preparation for life. What really matters to us? Who and what do we want to become? What does it mean to be an educated person?

It is not likely that we could put together a list (courses, degrees, qualities, or whatever) that would form a satisfactory definition of an educated person. Worked examples are more helpful than lists. The concept of saintliness takes on meaning when it is incarnated in saintly people. In the same way, we can learn about preparation for life by considering the lives of educated people. No two educated persons are exactly alike; each offers different insights. We learn as we look for patterns and principles that emerge among many examples. Permit me to offer just one.

Marjorie Griffin studied at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois in the early 1920s. Blackburn was a liberal arts college with Presbyterian heritage. A fundamental theme at Blackburn (still in place today) is the combination of intellectual development with service; it pioneered the idea of student work opportunities. Students are taught the dignity and educational value of offsetting the cost of education by taking a part in day-to-day operations. Marjorie in her day ran the laundry and was secretary to "prexy" (Blackburn's president), Dr. Hudson. Students took turns in the kitchen as well. When her name appeared on the roster for Sunday breakfast, she would be up in the early hours to prepare hundreds of cinnamon rolls.

Marjorie's father disapproved of her time at Blackburn. Herman Griffin believed that education for women is a waste. Marjorie thought otherwise. She was into everything.

She learned about writing, and tested her new skills by writing in the student paper. Her column was a chat piece called "The Champus Cat". Here is "Charlie's List of the Heaven Bound", a slice of doggerel that she used to chide an overly zealous pre-theology student:

O hark ye all and give attention
For Charlie's list we here give mention.
But very few hear the trumpet sound
And march with Charlie heaven bound.
The breakfast cooks were crossed off to a man
For throwing burnt biscuits in the garbage can.
Fred Jones is hiding under the table
Because he married before he was able.
Mary Lou Smith, one sad, sad day,
Some jazzy music was heard to play.
Anyone foolish enough to dance
On Charlie's list doesn't stand a chance.
If Catholic by chance your parents be,
You will shovel coal through eternity.
St. Peter's gates will open wide
For those who are on Charlie's side.
Sadly, few indeed hear the trumpet sound,
And march with Charlie, heaven bound.
(Incidentally, Charlie loved it.)

Marjorie took her associate's degree from Blackburn and became a dietitian in a large nursing home. After a couple of years she married a Canadian man ten years her senior.

Let's fast forward to the mid 1930s. Under the pseudonym, "Marjorie Kennedy", she was again writing, now a column entitled "Home Chats", for the Toronto Free Press. She gave pseudonyms to her growing brood, and wrote about child raising. She was far ahead of her time. She taught mothers values, especially the dignity and worth of the child. She portrayed child raising as the most important work on this earth, shaping the next generation. On the subject of education for girls and women, she came out strongly: "Teach a man, and you teach an individual. Teach a woman, and you teach a family and a generation."

Fast forward again, now to 1942. Marjorie was left to raise by herself six children, ages 14 to 4. She refused welfare. Her sense of responsibility led her to enter the work force full time AND to spend the equivalent of a second shift with her children. Working mothers still have to endure poverty; at times she was reduced to two rooms for her family with a bathroom shared with another family down the hall. In all of this, she held before her children the dignity of the person, and their responsibility to get education that would lift them to be part of the solution, not just part of the problems in this world.

Fast forward into the next decade, the 1950s. She believed in continuous learning, so she went to night school to brush up her accounting skills. By the end of the decade, she was teaching it. During the day she was office manager, then accountant for a fast growing automotive parts firm. Rising eventually to Secretary Treasurer, she had to overcome all the put-downs and abuse that were part of workplace life before it became fashionable for women to be senior executives.

The 1950s were a time in which she went more and more out of her way to develop her people skills. She could (and would) strike up conversation with just about anybody. She learned compassionate listening for her staff and for complete strangers. She continued to write. Her files from that period show pieces on Mother Cabrini and other of her lifelong heroines.

She worked through the 1960s as Secretary Treasurer, but with her children out of the nest she gave herself more time for travel in Germany and Great Britain as well as the United States and Canada. Her sense of history flowered further. On the faith side of her life, she became a Presbyterian elder, one of the first women in Canada. She took the role seriously, preaching in senior citizen homes and in occasional church services, plus serving on local and Presbytery committees.

Marjorie "retired" at age 68 from her day job. And she was off and running. Her love for people led her immediately into volunteer counseling in rehab settings. She set out to improve her public speaking through the Toastmistress Club. She plunged more into church life, three times serving as a commissioner to the General Assembly (national body) of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. This whirlwind of activity continued through the 1970s. At age 78, she was still host of a television talk show on a cable network.

The 1980s were the wisdom years, the writing years. She tried in her writing to "put it all together", to integrate what she had learned (so far!) from life, and what matters. Her faith grew yet deeper. She had always taught the importance of investing in people. In 1983-84 she sacrificed part of her meager savings to send one of her 18 grandchildren to Franciscan University of Steubenville.

The 1990s have been a time of "being rather than doing". This is hard for a person who is accustomed to achieving rather than easing up, giving rather than receiving. She has kept on learning, but finally at age 96 and a half had to give up living independently. With this change (June 1998), she decided she was ready for home. In her pain, she has shared with others her meditating on the pains of Christ.

Here is a life that has spanned the twentieth century. Marjorie Griffin was born in 1901, the year that Queen Victoria died and President McKinley was shot. The first airplane flight was still in the future.

What is an educated person? People who are to shape the twenty-first century can draw some guidance from those who have been on the front lines of change through the twentieth century. An educated person has learned how to learn, to listen, to love, to think clearly, to look for worth in every person, to persist in difficulty.

What is Marjorie Griffin doing now? On Friday, September 11, the psalm response in the noon liturgy was: "How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord mighty God." The refrain of the last hymn was:

"I will fight the good fight,
with all my heart and soul,
till the day that I'm with Jesus,
the day I'm finally home,
the day that I have won the crown."
Our destination is that lovely dwelling place of God. Marjorie Kennedy Griffin Lowry died Thursday evening, September 10. She is off on the next great adventure. Enjoy it, Mom! We honor you, an educated woman, for all that you have taught us in preparation for life.

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