Sen. Byrd carries constitution in pocket

By Bob Weaver 2002

Senator Robert C. Byrd, delivering a commencement address to the three graduates of Pickens High School, said "Small is not only better, it is best," referring to public education and the movement to create large consolidated schools.

Looking directly in the faces of the three graduates, Byrd said "Who can fathom what greatness you may achieve."

A large number of people attended the seventy-fourth commencement Saturday in the old clapboard school, off the beaten path in the backwoods of Randolph County.

Byrd said principal Jim Biggs has "secured a non-threatening environment, the basis for good education skills, which is just what America wants ... no watered down, feel-good system."

Byrd said you won't find metal detectors, security cameras, weapons, kids using drugs, nasty graffiti and violence in schools like Pickens.

"Believe in a higher power" said Byrd

Pickens, which had 37 students grades 1-12 this year, is the smallest school in West Virginia, and has faced threats of closure for years during Principal Biggs twenty-seven year tenure.

Attending Saturday's ceremony was Randolph County Superintendent of Schools H. Glen Karlen, who has led the movement to close Pickens, one of the state's five exemplary schools, which has also been recognized for outstanding SAT-9 scores, lack of drop-outs, champion writers and college bound students.

West Virginia has closed 324 schools since 1990 by 2002, with 151 more on the list, mostly elementary. "It is like trying to turn an elephant" in West Virginia, according to Linda Martin with Challenge WV, who says the state got on the consolidation bandwagon as most of America had decided large schools were not productive.

Byrd said "Education is the path to personal achievement." He said popular culture promotes the outrageous rather than the outstanding, noting "Mediocrity is not allowed at Pickens School," He said teachers should be the role models for American students.

Byrd, who carries a copy of the U. S. Constitution in his shirt pocket and is a leading historian on democratic and constitutional government, said he had a "lust to learn" growing up in a poor coal mining family in southern West Virginia. He was out of high school for 16 years before he started night school and earned a law degree.

West Virginia's most famous citizen, who has been present for 98% of role call votes in the past 44 years, said he has been proud to stand before kings and presidents as a representative of the people.

Historically, Byrd did not aspire to obtain wealth, unlike many of his counterparts.

He was among few in Congress who opposed entering the war in Iraq.

Pickens school is in remote Randolph County

Byrd said "No ballgame ever changed the history of the world," although he enjoys sports. He said it is the study of history, science, math, spelling and writing that moves humankind in new directions.

Speaking of his humble beginnings and his accomplishments in the U. S. Senate, he somewhat apologized for talking about himself, quoting Dizzy Dean, who said "It is all right to brag about yourself, if you've done it."

Looking toward the audience he said "Believe in a higher power."

He told the group "I was asked to speak at several graduations, but I chose to come here because I believe in what you are doing."

Principal Biggs said "It has been a great experience for me being in this small community these many years, and having a sense of trying to do what's best for kids."

Pickens HS Class of 2002

Principal Biggs recalls school's history

As the afternoon sun heated the austere gym, the lone pianist played the recessional and Dustin Greenway, Sarah Jones and Jeremy Sears turned their tassels and marched down the aisle to their futures.

The rest of the congregation, educators, politicians, parents and school kids were surely reflecting on the future of public education.

Community gathers to honor Grads

- Long-time Pickens advocate and principal Jim Biggs, and personal friend, is now deceased, as is Senator Byrd. - Bob Weaver