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24 February 2006

Randy Wilson: Moving On!

Randy Wilson

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 in history.

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 laurels.

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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