The Ballad of Old Man Peters



Updated June 8, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Admitted by Soundarya Balasubramani. Written by an Ivy League graduate from India, this is the proven guide for students worldwide looking to pursue undergraduate or graduate study abroad in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. Purchase for instant access to the guide and other exclusive resources—including sample SOPs, sample resumes, scholarship lists, and a private community with other readers.

Since this book is aimed at educating you on how you can become more educated, it felt fitting that we share a story on the quest for education before we dive into the crux of it. I read this short story in the summer of 2019, when I was devouring many books on creative non-fiction. In a true story titled The Ballad of Old Man Peters,* Jon Franklin, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author, recounts the life of an old man named Wilk Peters, who spent his life chasing knowledge and fleeing ignorance.

Wilk was born in 1900 in Trinity County, Texas, to John and Martha Peters. The 1900s were a period when racism plagued America. At the age of eight, he had six other siblings to take care of, and was an agricultural laborer walking a plow mule. Yet, he knew he wanted more.

His parents, though not educated beyond grammar school, knew the path to emancipation was through education.

Wilk’s gift from his father was not a worn out tractor or a five acre farm; it was the dream that Wilk would become a doctor someday. He clutched onto that dream, intangible at times, and it kept him going when his father passed away, followed by his youngest sister. When he turned 18, he decided to finally move away from his family towards his quest for education.

As you leaf through the pages of this inspiring—and at times melancholic—story, you will realize the lengths to which someone can go, and has gone, to seek education. One of my favorite passages from the story alludes to the day Wilk finally stepped into a classroom.

“Wilk found himself, at age 23, a full-grown man with calloused hands and hardened muscles, sitting with his knees jammed under a tiny desk, wrestling with long division, surrounded by prepubescent sixth-graders. The effect was not what the admission officials had predicted. Wilk viewed his place in class as opportunity, not insult. If the children laughed at him he didn’t notice, preoccupied as he was with the serious business of fractions, with the parsing of sentences and the memorization of poetry.”

Too often, we forget the wonders around us. Just by being able to read this book, this passage, you have proven to be luckier than half of the earth’s population, being able to see, read, and comprehend the meaning of these words. As you try to seek further education, do not forget the privilege you enjoy in being a curious soul.

As for Wilk? He went on to become a librarian, standing at the gates of knowledge every day and guarding them so future generations could reap the benefits. He also found his love for traveling, and flew to 56 countries (that he could remember), and learned German, French, Russian, Italian, Spanish, and so much more. He did not become a doctor like his father dreamed of.

But he became an educated man.

Make Sure You’re Ready for a Challenge

Re-read this chapter if you can. Spending a few more minutes now will save you heaps of time later when you look back with troubling doubts. Many of the students who leave their home country to pursue education abroad do not return, at least for a period of 5–10 years. That’s more than enough time for a lot of significant changes to take place in your life. If you were planning to leave your home country and study abroad primarily because you wanted to earn more, obtain a better social status, or dislike your current job (and situation), we ask you to think again.

There are struggles associated with the transition that cannot be anticipated until you get here (or wherever you go). You will be put in situations that ask you to act against your natural instincts. A lot of the social concepts you learned previously might seem irrelevant. The solution is not to abandon them all and adopt new ones. In fact, there is no right answer. It varies from one situation to another. But suffice to say, it’s not all rosy.

As long as you are aware of that, and are ready to face new challenges and opportunities, we are rooting for you. Take a page from the story of the old man Wilk Peters to appreciate the opportunities you have around you. It’s a wonderful time to be alive. If you have a curious mind and discipline to support that, there’s nothing stopping you from getting what you want!

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