Among the stories the Times Free Press chronicled in the last few days was one of a successful 58-year-old businessman who returned to college to get the degree he didn't quite finish 36 years ago, a 19-year-old man who has become the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's youngest graduate and a 22-year-old college graduate who is a Jimmy John's driver but hopes to use the fast-paced job as a stepping-stone to the real world.
None of these three has waited for life to happen to him. None has sat back and waited for the federal government to rescue him. None has let choices he may have made in the past keep him from trying to get ahead.
This is the American spirit that made the country the most wealthy, most generous and most powerful in the world, a status many believe has slipped over the past few years as the government has made it easier to not work, to not get involved, to not care.
But not these three.
Kudos are deserved by the likes of Greg Vital, who not only finished his degree with two accounting courses and a statistics course (whew!) but also was the commencement speaker for the 440 graduates of Southern Adventist University; Quinn Pertuit, who graduated magna cum laude from UTC in three years with a bachelor's degree in management; and Nathan Wright, who earned a degree in public nonprofit management but is making $7.25 an hour (plus tips) delivering sandwiches for Jimmy John's.
Vital, though "poor, hungry and driven" when he dropped out of Southern more than three decades ago, eventually founded and is the president of Independent Healthcare Properties.
Pertuit, who is now applying to graduate schools and hopes one day to work in management for a consulting firm, took 18 hours of classes a semester (instead of the 12-hour load most students take) and participated in an internship, which led to a job.
Wright, who is one many drivers for the Market and 10th Street restaurant, doesn't let the grass grow under him as he delivers. Speed is of the essence whether he's on foot or in the car, and he's learned the parking, hustling and traffic patterns to get sandwiches to patrons minutes after an order is called in.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a decision that allows public bodies to open their meetings with prayers as long as officials make a good-faith effort at inclusion. The fact it wasn't 9-0 instead of 5-4 indicates the caliber of recent justice appointments and their lack of understanding of the issue.
The practice of ceremonial prayer, according to the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, "has become a part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom."
Such a tradition began even before the opening prayer of the first U.S. Congress. And a recent poll by Farleigh Dickinson University's Public Mind showed 73 percent of all voters say "prayer at public meetings is fine as long as the public officials are not favoring some beliefs over others." Republicans favored the prayers 88-10, and even Democrats by a 60-36 margin say such prayers should be allowed.
"The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent," Kennedy wrote, "rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers."
This could have local implications since the Hamilton County Commission is currently defending a 2012 lawsuit in which two people sued because they say the county's policy of prayers before Commission meetings violates the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment, which prohibits government from "respecting an establishment of religion."
With Monday's decision in mind, U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice could soon rule on the local case, in which the plaintiff says the county policy mandating that speakers have an established church bars their participation.
In today's contested primary races in Hamilton County, the Free Press editorial page endorses:
• Commission District 1: Randy Fairbanks (R)
• Commission District 4: Pam Ladd (D)
• Commission District 5: Greg Beck (D)
• Commission District 7: Phil Smartt (R) and Ezra Maize (D)
• Commission District 8: Brent Lambert (R)
• Jim Coppinger (R)
• Jim Hammond (R)
CHANCERY, PART 1
• Pam McNutt Fleenor (R)
CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE
• J.B. Bennett (R)
CIRCUIT COURT CLERK
• Larry Henry (R)
CRIMINAL COURT CLERK
• Gwen Tidwell (D)
REGISTER OF DEEDS
• Pam Hurst (R)