24 February 2006
By Randy Wilson
JSU News Bureau
As I entered the JSU News Bureau office this morning, I was both sad and excited. I am sad
because my last day working as a staff writer has finally arrived. Yet, I am excited
because next week I will begin a promising career with the Veterans Administration (VA)
at the VA Hospital in Birmingham as a safety specialist.
The journey along the path from sharecropper's son in South Georgia to JSU graduate in
July 2005, to graduate student, has been fraught with many obstacles along the way. But,
I made it!
The journey began soon after I quit high school to join the US Army. Yes, I am a high
school drop-out. But, that's another story for another day. In the small agrarian community
of my birth, Ocilla, Ga., career options were very limited for the economically challenged.
It was either continue working the fields of tobacco, peanuts, and cotton, or work in the
one factory in town, or join the military.
I was simply tired of croppin' baccer, and did not relish the idea of working at the
local textile mill making women's undergarments. I had a minor altercation with Tifton,
Georgia's finest (I was completely innocent of all charges) about halfway through my
senior year, and I was basically presented with two options: "Go to war or go to
jail." (Yes, they still do that.) I "chose" to enlist in the US Army in November of 1987.
My career in the US Army carried me from the US to West Germany, Puerto Rico, Spain
and to the Middle East to "participate" in Desert Storm as a weapons systems specialist.
While serving in Desert Storm, I suffered a battlefield injury that all but ended my
career as a solider.
However, one of the best things the US Army did for me was to introduce me to the world of
higher education. I quickly realized my mistake in quitting high school and began night
classes to earn my diploma. Those night classes helped me find my true calling. I decided
to enter college to earn a degree.
After returning from Iraq in March of 1991, I met the mother of my future children and
married her before the rooster crowed. My tour of duty with the US Army ended in Nov.
of 1991, and I bravely entered where no person in my family had ventured for more
than five generations: college.
I began my collegiate career about one year after leaving the Army. I entered ABAC, a
small junior college in Tifton, Ga., where I earned an associate's degree in physical
education in 1995. I wanted to continue to earn my bachelor's, but by this time I had
a wife, and the Good Lord blessed us with two of the prettiest girls this side of the
Mississippi River that I am fortunate to call my children.
I accepted a position working as safety training instructor with Chaparral Boats
in Nashville, Ga., another small southern factory town where the owner was treated
like God. At least they weren't making women's undergarments.
I decided that it would be in the best interest of all parties concerned if we
ended our marriage in the summer of 2000. In the spring of 2001, I showed up on
the doorsteps of JSU with the dream of finishing what I started in 1992—with two
children (yes, I received custody of our two daughters during the divorce proceedings)
and very limited financial resources. But, I wanted to set the example for Shelby and Kelli,
my two angels, that you need to finish what you start as well as appreciate higher education.
I basically showed up like a lost puppy dog looking for a home. JSU fed my insatiable
appetite for higher education, and I have never left. Until now! JSU has been a wonderful home
for me. I have had experiences, both good and bad, that have taught me a good deal about life.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Hardy Jackson, head of the history department, for not allowing me
to give up or quit. He challenged me and rode me hard, expecting things from me that I didn't know
I could produce. He refused to accept substandard work. Dr. Jackson was always fond of saying,
"A person can accomplish anything if they set their mind to it, even you Randy."
As a result, he gave me something that I can never repay him for: confidence that I could succeed
academically at this level. Now, I am in my second semester of graduate school working on a master's
I plan on continuing my education at JSU. Once I get established at the VA, I will start a scholarship
fund at JSU in honor of my grandmother, Demmeris Wilson of Jacksonville. This is my way of staying in
contact with the university that not only offered the opportunity for an education, both academically
and in life, but provided me with a much sought after home. A place to succeed or fail based on my own
I am living proof that if any person believes in himself or herself and is willing to do whatever it
takes to accomplish the mission, that person can and will succeed. The only advice I would offer to
the younger generations is to find something you love doing and to stick with it, no matter what people say.
It's your life—you live it.
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