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Irons in the fire: Neighborly scholarship

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattle Published on 23 April 2021

If you’re reading this, it means I just slipped in under the wire, not unlike the horses I’ve been chasing this morning – the same horses that were out a few nights ago at 10:30 p.m. when I was 20 miles away on my way back from a meeting in town.

Well, it’s not really like that, but I really wanted to slip some kind of analogy in there, and the wire thing was fresh on my mind.

My wire is of the editorial deadline sort. The one that ever-patient and long-suffering editors lift up just high enough for me to slide under a mere day or so before everything has to go to print.

The one pertaining to the horses is of the trashy-gate kind. I mean, the kind that lends itself to someone not really closing it, thus allowing the horses to escape out of the far northeast corner of the 320 (again), where the good neighbor sees them and calls me (again) to let me know before they help themselves to someone’s haystack or surprise some unsuspecting teenager as he speeds down the gravel road in the dim light of early morning on his way to track practice.

Frankly, I’m pretty lucky in the neighbor department. First off, I’m lucky none of them are in such close proximity that they can see through the kitchen window or know when I flush at 4 a.m., yet they’re near enough that they stop to help me with a flat on the tractor or, of course, round up my wayward cavvy. I’m lucky they are, for the most part, people with high standards and low expectations; people who always wave when they drive past the house or barn, and if they don’t wave, they apologize when they see me at church or the diesel pump outside the only café in town. They give without question, withholding only their judgment, though I offer up ample opportunity for such. I feel little pressure to “keep up with the Joneses” in the worldliest of ways, but I fall woefully short in my feeble and half-hearted attempts to keep pace with their charitable and giving hearts.

A while back, I was one of a group of people who volunteered our time and limited expertise as members of a local scholarship committee. We were tasked with sifting through a pile of scholarship applications and deciding which four aspiring college students of the bunch should be awarded a generous scholarship to help with their continuing education. As a committee, we were given no strict guidelines as to how we were to judge, only that we were to choose those students we deemed most deserving. In my estimation, there was not a single application that indicated the student who filled it out and submitted it was not in some way deserving of a scholarship. Still, I had to decide which ones I felt were more deserving than others.

There were applications from soon-to-be high-school graduates with impeccable, straight-A transcripts and amazing records of school and community service. Each one of them was, without a doubt, certainly deserving. There were other applications from students who had dropped out of college but who wanted to resume their educations. Some came from honorable, respected families; some from broken homes; some from both. Some were natives, some were move-ins. Some were high academic achievers, some were … not.

Lacking much Solomon-like wisdom, I was perplexed, unsure of how I should lean with my influence on the committee. Thankfully, there were four scholarships to award, so I could sit on the fence and waffle a little bit on my criteria. In the end, I looked to my neighbors and editors for inspiration. I decided it was OK to expect excellence yet accept and reward mediocrity from an honest and honorable effort.

Each student who earned my recommendation earned it from a very unique platform. I decided, in this situation, the overachieving honor student with post-graduate aspirations was no more or less deserving than the single mom with a GED who somehow caught the ag accounting vision and wanted to earn an associate degree from the nearest junior college.

Thank goodness for good neighbors, good sense, patience and compassion. Mr. Rogers never had it so good. end mark

Paul Marchant is a cowboy and part-time freelance writer based in southern Idaho. Follow him on Twitter, or email Paul Marchant.

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