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We are all here on the shoulders of our predecessors," Andrew D. Jones Jr. told the sun-baked Lincoln Field crowd at this year's graduate school Commencement ceremony. Ph.D. candidate Jones took what could have been a graduation bromide and gave it a pulse. "Each of us has a story," he said. "The story that brought me here today started on a slave ship that transported my ancestors from Africa," a slave ship on which one of Jones's female ancestors was murdered for disobedience.

Continuing his family saga, Jones next described his great grandfather, George French. "He was a proud man," Jones said. "He laced his shoes from top to bottom, so that the bows were down near the toes. He was later tied to railroad tracks, and afterwards all that was left of him were his shoes. It was the only way his family could tell who he was."

Race also brought Jones's parents together: they met on a train when his father came to his mother's defense for refusing to give up her seat to a white person. With their lives a lesson in quiet resistance, they stood by their son when, in elementary school, he was placed in classes for "educable, but mentally retarded" students. When Jones failed in his first attempt at attending college, his parents arranged for tutors. "Four years ago I drove to Providence," Jones concluded, "and now I'm leaving with a Ph.D. I thank the woman who died on the slave ship. I thank my parents for standing their ground and teaching me tenacity."

Despite Jones's gifts as a storyteller, his specialty is applied math. His dissertation, titled "Analysis of the Chemical Vapor Infiltration Process," is the work of a highly educable and free man.





Comments (1)
08/26/17
 
Here is the correct story: 
 
Speak 
to the Past 
and Thank It 
 
We have come from the shores of Europe and Africa, Asia and the Americas, to stand on the shoulders of those who carried us. Our fore fathers and mothers, our teachers and mentors, our ministers and our Gods. All of our predecessors had obstacles to overcome, challenges to meet, with hopes of a world of freedom and discovery, equality and justice. Each of us has a story. 
 
I would like to share with you the journey that brought me here today. It began about 200 years ago. 
 
A man and his pregnant wife were headed west on a slave ship bound for Virginia. When brought to the deck the man refused the captivity imposed on his family. So he fought for freedom and was killed. The woman looked toward the shore of this nation with the future that stands before you and among you in her womb. The woman and her newborn daughter became the possession of Reverend French. The daughter and the Reverend had a child named George French, who became my great-great grandfather who lived to see Emancipation. 
 
George married a former slave named Agnes. They had 4 children who traveled to Hinton West Virginia in a covered wagon with hopes of a better life. One of their children, Josephine French, married Louis Conner. My great grand father. 
 
Louis was a proud and unusual Black man. He laced his shoes from top bottom with the bow near the toe. He completed elementary school and attempted high school but did not finish it. He refused to humble himself in the presence of white men. He spoke of Black pride at the turn of this Century. In 1913 a group of racist tied Louis to the railroad tracks. All his daughter, Lynn could recognize were his shoes laced from the top to the bottom. All that was left of him was his pride. 
 
The daughter Lynn, my grandmother would go on to complete high school and attempt college but not did finish. Lynn married Barny Raglin and they gave birth to Evelyn. 
 
In 1954 on a train bound for Georgia, Evelyn refused to move to the back of the train when it crossed the Mason Dixon Line. She was joined by an aspiring attorney, Andrew Jones, who told the attendant of the revised Laws. Under the new Jim Crow Laws, she was not required to move if she was already seated in the North. Andrew threatened to sue the railroad. The attendant backed down. Andrew joined Evelyn for the rest of the ride, and they became my parents. 
 
My parents completed college and they attempted graduate school but did not finish. 
 
It was August and I was 8 years old when I dreamed of riding down Euclid Avenue, Route 6 in Cleveland, into the sunrise to go to college. My ambition was to become a scientist. I called it, "The Dream in the East, Where the Sun Rises".  
 
In upper elementary school I was placed in Educable Mentally Retarded classes.  
 
When I was 16 I was told that I was not college material so I could not take college prep courses. I refused to accept dictated limits on my abilities. Still determined to ride into the sunrise to go to college, I dropped out of high school. 
 
I went on to Cleveland State University. At this point, I neither knew arithmetic nor of its roll in science. Consequently, I failed the mathematics, physics, and chemistry typically taken by freshmen who major in science. At the end of my fourth quarter I was academically dismissed. 
 
Through self-study, with help from people who hardly knew me, I learned basic mathematics and returned to Cleveland State to graduate with distinction. 
 
I went on to Duke University for graduate school. I was unable to identify an advisor and a research topic after 3 years, so I was asked to resign. 
 
Four year ago, I arrived 710 miles from Cleveland, down Route 6 at Brown University to attempt graduate school. Four years from then I stand before you a candidate for the Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Mathematics at the place where the Sun rises! 
 
And so I speak to the past and thank it. 
 
I thank the captive who fought for freedom when it was hopeless and died on the slave ship. His courage is alive today. 
 
I thank the woman who lived when faced with a life of captivity. Her perseverance continues. 
 
I thank the man who died proud of being Black. His pride flowed in the hearts of his children; it has become the pulsing in the veins of his grandchildren and all of the countless generation to follow. 
 
I thank my parents for standing their ground when pushed by oppression. I thank them again for teaching me tenacity. And I thank my Mother for her continuous support of my efforts. 
 
We are all here on the shoulders of our predecessors 
 
Those who sacrificed their time, their money, their efforts, and their lives that we might be here today. 
 
So let us take time to thank those 
 
Who believed in us when we lost confidence 
Who pushed us when we were tired 
Who led us when we were lost 
Who carried us when we could not walk 
 
We have been educated in Engineering and the Sciences, History and the Arts, in Medicine and the Humanities. We thank those who brought us here today by using our crafts to fashion a better world for all of humankind. 
 
We thank those who showed us compassion - by being compassionate to those we touch 
We thank those that educated us - by teaching others 
We thank those who guide us through research - by discovery 
 
So I challenge the engineer to design systems that make the water clean where it was once poisoned.  
 
I ask the artiest to bring painting and sculpture and dance to neighborhoods that are barren. 
 
I charge the teachers to reach out and educate those who would not otherwise have the opportunity to learn. 
 
I call upon the Medical doctors to take some time to treat patients without insurance in the free clinics and in the rural areas without hospitals 
 
I urge the historians and the political scientist to craft laws that lower the barriers of discrimination and inequality. 
 
I implore the professoriate to identify those students who have not been properly taught 
Meet them where they are and lift them to where they need to be! 
 
I challenge all of you to take what you have been taught and give part of yourself to the dreams and ideals that brought us all here together today! 
 
In this way we give honor to the efforts of our parents and our professors. And we lift the spirits of our Ancestors and our Gods. By giving to others, we give thanks to those who gave so freely, to make us who we are. 
 
I conclude with words inspired by my late father. 
 
If you only do, what you are capable of, you will never expand your abilities. If you only look, for what you know is there, you will never find what is undiscovered. 
 
So go on 
Trying 
what you can or cannot do 
Reaching 
for what may or may not be there 
Remembering 
if you find a thought 
that is everlasting 
you have found the immortality 
of the mind 
 
 
Thank you
 
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