Nicholas Zeppos is Chancellor of Vanderbilt University. He is a US citizen. He is a lawyer. He is a professor. He is a man of letters.
His grandfather was not. He was a man of few letters. He was illiterate. He was not a US citizen. At least not originally.
But, in 1926 he petitioned for citizenship. And when he did, John Zeppos signed with an X. It was witnessed by two men, Arthur Schiefelbein and George Lang, a merchant and a molder. They testified that Mr Zeppos was a person of character and should become a US citizen.
In his speech to 2900 graduates and their families, Chancellor Zeppos reasoned that
he would not likely now be chancellor of Vanderbilt university if Schiefelbein and Lang had not vouched for his grandfather back in 1926.
“I finally came to realize that I am here because I am educated,” he said. “And I don’t simply mean ‘hear’ today as your chancellor and as a professor at Vanderbilt. I mean ‘here’ today unburdened from worry about the basic necessities of life, able to educate my children, to have good health care, to drink clean water, unafraid to vote, free to experience a broader, more diverse world.”
And what lesson was the class of 2016 to take from the story?
“Do whatever you can to lift others up,” Zeppos said. “Who knows? Someday you may do nothing more than affix your name to a document in support of someone who needs your help. And while it may take eight decades, someone, someday, may just become a college president out of this act of kindness and generosity.” (Vanderbilt Magazine, Summer, 2016)
Most of us are like Schiefelbein and Lang. We will never know what our signature will mean to someone else. That’s why we should always lift others up. Doing the right thing for people who need help is never the wrong thing. Someday, long after we are gone, someone’s grandchild might make an impact that we could have never imagined.