Seventy Year-Old Among 82 GED Graduates
“If you don’t want to work hard, get an education, otherwise you’ll work hard labor like I did”. So was the advice for Indian youth in an interview with 70 year-old James King, Sr. one of 82 graduates of the Red Lake GED program on May 20th, 2011. A ceremony, including cap and gown, was held at Seven Clans Casino Event Center on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. This was the first time such a “formal” GED graduation was held.
The event began with a banquet at 5 PM for invited guests and graduates. Then at 6:30, a single file procession of graduates were smudged as they entered the events center, not to the strings of Pomp and Circumstance, but to the beat of the celebrated drum, Eyabay.
A welcome and introductions by Marvin Hanson, Executive Director of the New Beginnings Program, was followed by an Opening Prayer by Spiritual Advisor, Leland Whitefeather.
Then came “Congratulatory Remarks” by Brent Gish Superintendent of Red Lake Public Schools, Red Lake Tribal Chairman Floyd Jourdain, Jr., and Tribal Executive Administrator, Lea Perkins.
Applause, and often cheers arose from time to time as various names were read, and graduates ascended and descended the stage to receive their certificates of accomplishment. Proud GED staff Laura Malott, Adult Basic Education (ABE) Coordinator/Instructor, and Janelle Clark, General Education Development (GED) Coordinator, New Beginnings, presented those awards along with a single red rose. Chairman Jourdain and Administrator Perkins stood nearby and shook the graduate’s hands.
Perhaps the loudest applause was heard when the name of James King, Sr., the oldest graduate was called.
Following the presentation of GED diplomas, emcee Hanson called Jourdain and Perkins back to the stage for a special recognition for King. When Hanson introduced King, applause mixed with cheers and whistles erupted among his classmates, the decibels rising even higher when Hanson mentioned that King was “71 years old”. A appreciative wave accompanied by a big smile crossed the face of King as Jourdain and Perkins wrapped King in a Pendleton blanket.
Emcee Hanson narrated as the blanket was presented, "He showed up, displaying extra effort as he worked on getting his GED”, Hanson said of King, “and he did very, very, well,". "And we're very proud of him. Thank you Jim, you are truly an inspiration for our GED Program and Red Lake Nation".
As King was about to descend the stage, Hanson said; “Jim, do you want to say a few words”? King avoided the question, saying instead what was on his mind, “you made me older than I am, I’m only 70”.
Later in an interview, when asked about avoiding Hanson’s question about speaking at the graduation, King said, “I ain’t much of a talker - well sometimes - if I get a few beers in me, but that ain’t very often”.
James King, Sr. quit school back when he was 16 and went to work. “I would have graduated in 1958”, said King. “When I started doing the GED thing, I told them I wanted to take the test they would have given me back in ‘58. I figured that would be easier, but they didn’t buy it”, King chuckled.
James King lived in the Twin Cities and was gone from the reservation for 35 years. He returned home about seventeen years ago, and currently lives in the Little Rock district at Red Lake.
“I started thinking about getting my GED when my son, who will be 40 soon, finally got his GED a few months ago”, observed King. “My son quit school when he was 16 too. We were living in Minneapolis at that time. He asked me back then if he could quit, and I said okay but you’re going to have to go to work. You could still get away with that back then, not so today”, said King.
“At first I wasn’t going to do it. Why would a guy my age do this?, I asked myself. I figured I’ve made it this long, and in my line of work one really didn’t need an education”, King explained.
“I’m not sure why I decided to do it, maybe a bunch of things”, said King in answer to the question. “Maybe it’s my nature, maybe it was my son recently graduating, or maybe it was my granddaughter going after her GED”. (Bambi King, James’ granddaughter, was among the 82 graduating with James King).
“It didn’t take me long”, King observed, only about 3 months. I studied by taking some of those practice tests to prepare for the testing. I took the math and social studies tests in Bemidji, the reading and science up at Red Lake, and then you have to write an essay which I was a little leery of, but I did pretty good. I passed them all the first time”, said King with pride tempered by humility.
Asked if his classmates and family were proud of him for his achievement, King said “I’ve been married to the same woman for 44 years. Not sure about others, but my wife (Evie) is very proud of me. I guess that’s what wives do”, King said with a laugh.
Pressed further, King said, “Yeah, I suppose some of the the kids seemed curious about me, proud of me, but the ones I’ve really noticed are the older ones - guys I went to school with - are talking now about getting their GED, which is kind of neat. A lot of people say they seen me on the RLNN”, he said. (RLNN is the Red Lake Net News, an internet news service that provides words, photos, and “Youtube” videos on Red Lake and Indian Country happenings).
Said a friend, Alice Benaise: “Jim was one of my father, Manny Morgan’s good friends. He’s an uncle to me, I felt so honored that he asked me to attend his graduation ceremony. It was such a proud moment for him; as I walked out of the building I looked to the sky and said ‘Dad that was awesome’, he would have been so proud of his friend”.
What’s next? I asked of James King, Sr. “Well, I’m more or less retired”, said King. “But staying active as I can. I’m on the (Red Lake) Fisheries board, I’m on the tribal enrollment committee, and I sit in on tribal council meetings - pretty much just to be nosy,” King said with a laugh.
“I also want to take a course in computers, my grandson’s got one, but I don’t know how to turn it on or turn it off. So I want to learn how to operate a computer. Seems like there’s a lot to learn there”, he said.
Asked if he had anything to add that we hadn’t covered, King said; “I’ve always worked hard, I’ve had a good life. Today kids need an education, it’s not like when I was young, now you need an education to get any kind of a decent job”.
“I’m on total disability, the kind of work I did, I hurt my back a few times”, said King, “which is another good reason to get an education, you’ll have a better back”.