Character: Build It Here
Kelly was the first girl in the 128-year history of her high school in Hudson, Ohio to get through four years of auto shop. She’s driven. That could be a pun. Kelly loves cars, engines in particular, and BMWs to be exact. I got to interview Kelly when she was a candidate for a scholarship program. Kelly and I instantly had something in common. She was the only girl in auto shop, and I was the only woman on the panel of five judges. She walked into the room with confidence, sat down and leaned forward, eager to answer our questions.
First thing I wanted to know is how this diminutive young lady, no taller than five feet, fared being the only girl in auto shop. She said that it wasn’t that easy. She got teased a lot. She had to climb a small step ladder just so she could get under the hood and reach across the engine. The boys thought it was ridiculous that she was even trying. But Kelly was determined. She had a goal: to open an auto repair shop run by women for women. I was impressed as were my fellow judges. At one point in the interview, Kelly told a story about her parents asking what she wanted for Christmas that year. She told them that all she wanted under the Christmas tree was a set of tools.
After the interview, we discussed the candidates of the day. One of my fellow judges said, “The cream always rises to the top.” We all smiled, happy to know that Kelly would make the best use of the scholarship funds with her plan to attend a vocational college in a nearby town.
Today I read an article entitled, “Moaning Moguls”, in The New Yorker, the issue of July 7 & 14, 2014. It’s about the glaring inequality between the rich and poor in America. The writer, James Surowieki, makes a salient point after discussing how certain moguls in America are grumbling about the complaints of the poor against their extreme wealth. One mogul is quoted as saying that Americans “always like to blame somebody other than themselves for their failure.” Surowieki goes on to comment, “If you believe that net worth is a reflection of merit, then any attempt to curb inequality looks unfair. That’s not how it’s always been. A century ago, industrial magnates played a central role in the Progressive movement, working with unions, supporting workmen’s compensation laws and laws against child labor, and often pushing for more government regulation. This wasn’t altruism; as a classic analysis by the historian James Weinstein showed, the reforms were intended to co-opt public pressure and avert more radical measure. Still, they materially improved the lives of ordinary workers. And they sprang from a pragmatic belief that the robustness of capitalism as a whole depended on wide distribution of the fruits of the system.”
After I read the article in TNY, I thought about the lack of opportunities for young people in America to gain an education in vocational trades like Kelly pursued. Not a lot of high schools in America have programs to train students in hands-on skills. Budget cuts and a push for higher education have left a large portion of students wondering where to find training for what they really want to do: work with their hands to learn a trade that will provide a living for themselves and their families, and give them an opportunity to build a reliable future. A free-enterprise system allows for individual affluence, yet a healthy economy is contingent upon a community’s ability to sustain a quality of life that holds out promise for everyone.
Here is a link to a relevant article in Car and Driver magazine, “Why Train Kids to be ‘Grease Monkeys’? Because We Need Them”: