One man's journey to a Ph. D.

By Chad Galts / July / August 1999
November 12th, 2007
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.

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July / August 1999