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Lessons Learned, Lessons Lived

I attended my grandfather’s high school graduation.

How is that possible? My maternal grandfather, Jim, left high school to fight in World War II. He never officially graduated until Pittsburgh Public Schools held a special ceremony for Veterans. So, in front of an audience filled with his children and grandchildren, Jim finally received his diploma at age 79.

Jim’s sacrifice for his country is just one part of an incredible life story filled with valuable lessons. Those lessons dovetail with what I learned from another Veteran in my life: my paternal grandfather, Gene.

Those lessons have guided my life, making me a better person. They also make my work at DCG especially meaningful, as I know the projects I contribute to everyday support Veterans like my grandfathers.

I’d like to share words of wisdom from my grandfathers and tell you a little more about them.

Meet Jim

Jim started his life in a cemetery. His dad was the cemetery’s caretaker. His mother gave birth to 13 children in the house in the cemetery where the family lived.

Life wasn’t easy. The house had no furnace or indoor plumbing. Jim worked beside his father, digging graves by hand or, in the winter, using dynamite to break through frozen ground.

Education was important to the family, and Jim’s school days were busy. Every morning, he walked to school, then walked home for lunch, walked back to school again and, finally, walked home for the day. Not able to afford new shoes, Jim would line his with cardboard when the soles started to wear.

Jim loved to have fun. He tried his hardest to convince his young granddaughters that he took ballet class.

Outhouses and worn-out shoes may sound like the markings of a sad childhood. But Jim found security in being surrounded by a loving family and satisfaction in working hard.

Jim married Betty and they had eight children and 23 grandchildren. Jim prided himself on encouraging his offspring to always give their maximum effort no matter what they were doing.

Though Jim expected a lot out of his family, he also loved to have fun. He made up a potty-training song for each grandchild, danced like crazy at weddings, and even convinced his young granddaughters that he took ballet class just like them (he dressed up in a pink tutu so he could have a “dance school photo” like theirs).

Meet Gene

Gene grew up on a farm in the mountains of Pennsylvania. The land was like the family who worked it: poor and remote.

When Gene was in eighth grade, his parents made him leave his beloved one-room schoolhouse to work on his grandparents’ neighboring farm.

After the Pearl Harbor attack, Gene answered his country’s call. He served stateside, training pilots. He was extremely intelligent, and the military wanted to send him to engineering school. But Gene was anxious to start his life.

Gene was proud of his service. At left, Gene is shown as a young man during World War II. At right, Gene is shown wearing his uniform circa 1990.

Taking a different path from his forefathers, Gene shunned farming in favor of working in a steel mill in Pittsburgh. While there, he met Gloria and they had three children and four grandchildren. He ensured his children had the same values he acquired from farming, but in a more loving environment than he experienced.

Gene was a quiet man and appreciated the simple things in life. He enjoyed getting an Orange Julius drink from time to time and, most of all, spending time with his family.

Poor Children, Rich Childhood

Though there were few comforts in their early lives, both men had a childhood rich in many ways. They learned lessons about hard work, sacrifice and self-worth and built their lives around these ideas, providing a foundation through life’s inevitable ups and downs.

Drawing from the Strength of Others

During rough times in my life, I think about the little boy digging graves and the little boy working the land. Because of their strength and courage, I know I can make it through anything.

Sometimes, getting through everyday life can be a challenge. Inspired by my grandfathers, here is what I like to remember:

· Give your best effort all the time. Even if no one else sees you working hard, you’ll know what you did, and that’s what is most important.

· When you commit to something, follow through. You want to be someone who can be trusted.

· Value other points of view and experiences. Your life (and career) becomes richer when you think bigger than yourself.

· You have innate talents and abilities. Trust in them.

· You’ll never regret being kind.

· Listen when someone is speaking. Chances are, you’ll learn something.

· Leave some time in your life for fun. Laughter is powerful.

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