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Grandpa’s education journey

Dear Miles, 

This weekend is Father’s Day. I am thankful you have had an opportunity to meet my father and your grandfather, Clarence L. Ruth. I love to watch him hold and play with you.

You represent so much to my dad. You represent a new life, a new generation, and the future of the Ruth name.

I am proud to be the bridge between the Ruth men of the past and the Ruth men of the future.

I plan to take the lessons I learned from him and teach them to you. His life has had a huge impact on me and the decisions I make each and every day as I raise you.

Early education

Miles, you were born in the same state as your grandfather, right here in North Carolina. My dad was raised in Southern Pines in a family with many ups and downs. The turbulence forced Grandpa to run away from home at the young age of 15. 

He dropped out of high school. To get by, he picked up skills as a golf caddy, a sharecropper, and a mechanic. Your grandfather had the hard task of surviving in a rough community without an education and without a family. 


My dad once told me that during this time of his life, with no education and no guidance, he feared he would end up on the street corner alone. He entered the military to find the guidance and purpose he desired and needed.

After 4 1/2 years in the military, Grandpa had a thirst for education, but he wasn’t confident in a formal school setting. He did not want to fail again after quitting high school.

Even without higher education, Grandpa always carried himself with intellectual confidence. 

Vocational Training 

Before I was born, my dad had three of my siblings. The need to provide for us led him to acquire his GED and then he went on to trade school in air conditioning and auto mechanics. A lot of my childhood memories are of him under the hood of a car, and he was always giving the neighborhood children the coins in his pocket to go buy candy. 

Grandpa relied on his physical size and strength to succeed. He could lift boiler parts, appliances, and car parts. Until…

The BIG announcement 

On the day of my graduation from college, all of my family came to Atlanta. Grandpa said he had a big announcement after graduation.

The family gathered together after dinner.

He told all of us that his doctors had located cancer cells in his body. At the time, we did not understand the implications.

Later life education 

For many years, Grandpa maintained the appearance of physical strength even after being diagnosed. But at some point, his body’s internal struggle began to have external signs. The disease impacts his walking and his driving.

Because of his cancer, both at home and at work, Grandpa had to learn to enjoy and experience life through the abilities of his mind.

As his body weakened, he needed to and did make changes at his job. His work became less physical and more technological. He had to learn new skills.

At home, he is an intensive reader and learner. He is constantly listening to audio books, reading, and discussing the new concepts he comes across. Grandpa even talks about how he wishes now he had taken advantage of college in his earlier years.

None of us — including him — expected this newfound love of learning and an appreciation of education. Watching his remarkable evolution has been amazing for our family.

Lessons learned 

Miles, your grandfather has four sons with college degrees and two daughters who own their own businesses. One of his sons ran for Congress. Another is a high-end fashion designer.

This blue collar worker has left our world a legacy of white collar leaders.

The first time you met your grandfather, you all decided to have a stare down. In that moment, he knew you would be just as tough as he is. He became an even bigger fan of yours. His mental toughness, your mental toughness, has and will serve you both well. 

Miles, remember and value your grandfather’s educational journey. 

Finish high school, value college, and appreciate the power of your mind.

And remember this particular lesson from Grandpa — the physical deterioration of his body did not hinder his passion and thirst for learning; instead, it increased it.   

Happy Father’s Day, Grandpa.

I love you, Miles.    

Your Dad 

Previous letters:

An open letter to my son, Miles  

An open letter to my son, Miles: Fatherhood

An open letter to my son, Miles: Safe space

An open letter to my son, Miles: The Black community, police violence, and our schools 

The impact of a multicultural consumer group on our perception of race and education as we know it

Terrance Ruth

Dr. Terrance Ruth is an education policy communications specialist at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, North Carolina State University. His research focus is poverty and globalization. He is also the principal of an alternative school, AMIkids, in Raleigh.