Coming from a family of educators, professors and school administrators, Stuart Rankin enrolled at the University of Michigan in the summer of 1945 with every intention of becoming an engineer. Throughout his freshman year at the University, Rankin discovered that he had no issue completing the logistical portions of the engineering course load, but found that he was not entirely interested in the nature of the work. He transferred into the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, and sampled a number of courses before graduating with a degree in Economics and no definite career path.
Shortly after Stuart Rankin graduated from the University of Michigan in 1949, however, he was drafted into the U.S. Army as it prepared for the Korean War. On post, Rankin met a number of people who had not yet been activated, and like himself, they spent their time enlisted living and working on the army base while stationed safely in the personnel office. In the evenings and on weekends, Stuart and a handful of his friends from the base — seven or so — developed a routine of heading into Highland, Illinois, to grab a few drinks.
After some time, these seven friends mustered up the courage to confront Rankin. They knew he had gone to college, and having graduated from the University of Michigan, that made him the minority in their circle. For these seven friends of his, attending a university had never been an option. They hadn’t tried particularly hard in high school because there was nothing to come of it. However, following the enactment of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act — informally understood to be the G.I. Bill — a college education had suddenly become a reality.
With little to offer in return, they asked Rankin if he would be willing to teach them weekday evenings and help them prepare for higher education. He agreed, and in return, he never had to purchase himself another beer. All of Rankin’s friends were ultimately admitted into and graduated from college, and consequently, the man who had once entered college with the intention of never teaching, decided that he no longer wanted to do anything but teach.
When speaking with Mr. Rankin this past weekend, he was adamant on conveying this anecdote and its importance to me. He instructed that I listen closely, affirming that it is perfectly fine to be undecided on a choice of major and convincing me that there is no proven formula to determine the correct career path.
Mr. Rankin’s message came as a welcomed, simple reminder. Now retired from 37 years of service in the Detroit Public School System and 20 years at the University’s School of Education, Mr. Rankin is viewed as the archetypal Michigan Man in the eyes of his colleagues, friends and family due to his deep respect for knowledge and the strength of his commitment to institutions of education, particularly the University of Michigan. Rankin humbly and systematically worked his way up through the educational ranks, ending his time in DPSS as Assistant Superintendent. He spent his time at the School of Education enthralled by and dedicated to curriculum development and research.
Mr. Rankin’s sentiments reminded me of the modest insight that my eclectic, yet effective, English 425 professor refuses to let his students forget: “Scratch your itch.” Though at this point in our lives, it seems as though we may still be attempting to discover said itch.
When I spoke with Mr. Rankin he could not recall the record of the football team during his four years at the University, nor could he cite the effectiveness of head coach Bennie Oosterbaan’s leadership strategies. Rather, he was unconcerned with these particular details as he relayed to me his experience at the University, if not utterly confused why I had even bothered to ask. Nonetheless, he did report that he started watching the Michigan football team in 1936, and has seen at least one game every year since. Now celebrating his 80th year of unwavering fanhood, Rankin will be in attendance as the Wolverines take on the Indiana Hoosiers in the Big House this Saturday.
When we are 65 years removed from the University, we will not remember the debates surrounding exactly who should replace Michigan coach Brady Hoke, and we won’t remember what was said at any given “Fire Dave Brandon” rally. We may not even remember the almost obscene amount of money that made possible the transplantation of a single tree. Yet somehow, I’ll hedge my bets that we too will celebrate 80 years of unfailingly cheering on the Wolverines.
Ultimately, what will resonate with us are the same realizations that I am grateful Stuart Rankin was so intent on sharing with me. Explore this five-figure education you are investing in and exhaust the options for what may eventually be etched onto your diploma. Do not put too much stock into the confines of your concentration, and allow yourself to find your itch — and then scratch it. If you’re lucky enough, you may even be able to orchestrate a way in which to scratch that itch, while also never having to buy yourself another beer.
Lauren McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.