Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


The 82 Year Old Graduate Student

By Eran Wade
Before I came to Colombia, I had visions of myself surrounded by green jungle next to military warriors in fatigues sleeping in a small room over a shabby non-profit office. Over the last 4 weeks, the reality is that I am in a major city, on a beautiful university campus, getting to know hip people that you and I would love hanging out with in the United States. They are university professors, lawyers, teachers, college kids, and educated church and human rights leaders.

One of these men told me a story about his family. When the grandfather of the family was 65 years old he retired, but he soon became depressed. His son came to him and asked him, “What is something you’ve always wanted to do, but have never done?”

The grandfather replied that he had never finished secondary school or gone to a university. He wanted to do that. So the family decided to help him finish his schooling. Occasionally, they asked the grandfather’s professors how the he was doing. They said, “We’re scared of him. If we ask him a question, his response is written on a document half an inch thick!”

The grandfather finished his schooling and was going along fine. He was going along fine until he was 82 years old. Then he told the family he wanted to go back to school and get his Master’s degree!

One day, he came home and said to the family, “What do these professors think? That the only thing I have to do with my time is to work on their projects?” They thought it might help him if he had a computer, instead of re-writing his work on the typewriter. They gave him the computer, but he said, “I’m too old to learn to use this.” So the computer sat there.

One day, his grandson said, “Grandpa, do you mind if I use your computer.” Grandpa didn’t mind at all. The family then had an idea. They went to the 14 year old grandson and asked him if he would do something for them. Would he type and put the Grandpa’s thesis in the computer? The grandson was happy to do that—in fact, he felt proud to contribute to something important for the family.

One day, the Grandpa was complaining again about how his professors wanted him to rewrite and re-work his thesis. The family said, “Grandpa, take a look at what’s on the computer. Do you recognize this?” The grandpa saw his thesis on the computer and was shocked. The grandson started showing the grandpa how to use the computer and how easy it was to make the changes on his thesis. The grandfather started learning how to use the computer and finally finished his thesis.

This grandfather is now 90 years old and a patriarch in the human rights, social justice, and church work here in Colombia. One of my first nights here in Colombia an older man and his wife sat next to me at dinner after a meeting. I asked him how many years he and his wife had been married. In English he answered, “60 years!”

I had been speaking and hearing Spanish from people for 5 or 6 days and I couldn’t help but laugh and blurt out, “60 years he says! And in perfect English!” This was the grandfather in this story.

A few months ago, I was invited along with the other Freedom Museum volunteers to attend the opening of the elections exhibit, “Vote4Me! Inside a Presidential Election.” I remember Dave Anderson, Executive Director of the museum saying something like, “We sometimes have a discussion about whether it is right or a privilege to vote. We’re not here to tell you who to vote for or what you should vote for. However, we think you should be educated and informed on the issues.”

I have been impressed with the educational level of the people I am here with. Education has always been a high value in the religious reformed movement, but also I’ve noticed it the high education of the people in human rights and advocacy groups who usually happen to be lawyers. Others are students who come from some of the best universities in the country.

It has helped me gain their perspective as I think through the points posted in my last blog: 1) The first amendment freedom to petition and disagree with one’s government. 2) Should our international policy only be interested in the bottom line for our economy no matter how it affects others? 3) What is the best U.S. international policy for Colombia?

As I examine these issues, I have been able to visit places and people that are directly affected by many military and political forces at play here in Colombia. Like most conflicts in life, the cause of the problems here are multidimensional. When I ask people what they think about their situation, each person starts their answer with “Es muy complicado.—It’s very complicated.”

There are no easy answers. My first days here, I was overwhelmed with a sense that this was an opportunity of a lifetime. Of course, I’ve had fun enjoying “Carnaval,” other parties, great new friends, the nightlife here, gorgeous weather (what a winter to miss!), and advancing my Spanish skills. But these aspects, plus the opportunity to learn the public policy in the country and with such bright minds, have come together as a gift I will always cherish. I have the opportunity to hear stories and information of the people and their struggle for freedom here in Colombia.

Thanks to this blog, you and I can travel this road together.

Click here for Eran's previous entry about the Colombia experience


Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey, here is the site i was talking about where i made the extra cash......

this site ..

2:08 PM  
Blogger jenna said...

thanks, as ever now, Eran, for your storytelling and obvious commitment to learning. your travels sound wondrous, in so many ways and your words have given me some things to consider in new and different ways, as well...i would be curious as to the opinions of those there as to what they think the U.S.'s policies/roles in Colombia and around the world should be....

2:52 PM  

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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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