Friday, 18 January 2013 00:00
America is the land of opportunity. Unfortunately, these opportunities have diminished in recent years; however, with a little hard work they’re still out there for young people. During one of the worst periods in our country’s great history—The Great Depression—opportunities were few and far between for most Americans, much worse than today’s Great Recession.
At this time, my paternal grandfather survived by working his small farm and many odd jobs in New York’s Mohawk Valley. Although he had left school in the eighth grade, he was considered fairly well educated for this time period. Incredibly at this time, only about 10 percent of students graduated high school.
By and large, the Great Depression hit this part of New York State—the Leatherstocking Region—hard. In fact, employment opportunities were non-existent, and as a result, many people began leaving the area looking for new opportunities. My grandfather’s cousin Frank left a few years earlier and wrote to him about a great opportunity with New York City’s Corrections Department.
Cousin Frank was living like a king as a corrections officer—he had an apartment, new clothes, food in the pantry and a little money in his pocket. He told my grandfather that New York was looking for additional guards and all that was required was a good score on their entrance examination. For an impoverished young farmer, my grandfather saw this as “an opportunity.” Sure he had to leave home, but without running water, a bathroom, or electricity, the decision was a rather easy one. After all, he just needed to take a test.
Fortunately, his tiny one room schoolhouse in Herkimer had adeptly prepared him with a well-rounded education and the essential test-taking skills. He found his way down to New York City where he took the Corrections, as well as the police department, exams. Given that he scored well on both and that the police department paid better, he took at job with the NYPD where further opportunities to climb the departmental career ladder were available through additional test taking. Shortly thereafter, he traded his distressed farm for a house in Brooklyn with running water, two bathrooms, and electrical power. With the knowledge gained from that little schoolhouse, he was able to carve out his piece of the American dream. These days opportunities may be challenging, but with an education and the requisite skills, today’s children will be able to find their way.