Commentary: American Stories, American Dreams


By John Krull 

FRANKLIN, Indiana – The young woman in the cap and gown speaking to her fellow recent college graduates says something that always moves me.

She says she’s the first member of her family to earn a college degree.

There’s a moment of silence, then the hundreds of people in the audience applaud.

As they should.

It’s a big moment not just for her, but for her entire family. A lot of people had to work hard, had to sacrifice, had to struggle to put her where she is. She’s the one up in front of the crowd making the speech, but they all deserve to take a bow.

They did something.

Something that matters.

Earlier in this commencement at Franklin College – where I teach – a young man walked across the stage to receive his diploma and congratulatory handshake. Just after the young man’s name was announced – in violation of the admonition to hold applause until the end – a strong male voice rang out:


Everyone laughed.

They laughed because it was funny, but also because the father’s pride in his son sounded across the big space like a sonic boom.

Big moment for that family, too.

Another time, when another young man’s name was announced, the members of his family erupted in cheers and applause. After the young man had collected his diploma and handshake and walked off the stage, he was supposed to walk back to his seat.

He looked up to where his family was seated and made a quick decision. He ran up into the stands, taking the steps two at a time, his gown flapping behind him like a superhero’s cape.

Then he gave his father a long hug.

The crowd applauded.

A great moment for that family, too.

It makes me feel good to listen to that young woman talk about being her family’s first college graduate. To hear that father yell with pride. To see that son sprint to share a hug with his dad.

We live in an angry, angry age. Americans right left and center are frustrated and not shy about giving voice to that frustration. Their catalogs of resentment and complaint can blind us to so many things.

Among the things we sometimes forget is that there are many, many stories such as these taking place all across this land every minute of every hour of every day of the year.

There are people working hard, doing the right things, taking care of each other. They make sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice so they can have days like this one.

It’s an axiom of politics that’s it’s easier to move voters by frightening them than inspiring them. Angry citizens have motivated voters.

But that’s not the way most Americans live their lives.

They don’t go to work because they hate. They do so because they love.

They work hard because they want better lives for themselves. They want opportunities for their children. For their grandchildren. For their grandchildren’s grandchildren.

I’m the grandson of one grandfather who started his life as an itinerant farm worker and another grandfather who walked 40 miles, one way, to attend school so he could become his family’s first college graduate.

The grandchildren they share now are foundation executives, lawyers, journalists, and college professors.

That’s how the American dream works for so many. Hands linked through generations, pushing, pulling, willing the family forward.

There is, of course, a big American story about freedom and the long struggle to liberate the human spirit.

But within that big story are many little stories of individual Americans from all over making their way in this world, one step – one milestone – at a time.

Some of those stories unfold here.

A son hugs his father.

A father ricochets his pride off the walls for everyone to hear.

A young woman announces she’s the first of her line to make it through college.

Good for those students.

Good for their families.

And good for America, too.

FOOTNOTE: John Krull is the Director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.