In my lifetime, the month of May has held significant meaning. 


When I was a boy, May marked the end of the school year. I can’t recall ever having to go to school after Memorial Day. It was a month of transition as we shifted up a class, a routine that continued until I graduated high school in 1966.


Despite my mother's insistence, college just wasn't the right fit for me. While I was enrolled as a student at SIU, my focus was elsewhere, spending most of my time playing billiards at the local pool hall. 


With a draft notice looming, I volunteered for military service. The decision wasn't solely financial, though reimbursing my parents for wasted tuition certainly played a part. I also had a desire to serve my country.


On September 13, 1966, alongside fellow Dongolians Wayne and Tim, I pledged my allegiance to protect the United States. The military offered structure and physical challenges that college didn't provide. Basic training at Fort Leonard Wood was followed by radio operator school at Fort Knox, where Morse code proficiency was essential.


Scraping by with a barely passing score of 9, I was assigned to a combat unit. Little did I realize the peril of being a radio operator in Vietnam. 


Most military missions are command and control. Take out the command and control the others. But all that communication is through the radio operator. He’s fairly easy for the enemy to identify. Just look for the fella with his antenna up in the air.


After radio school, I attended jump school at Fort Benning, but a ten-day bout with pneumonia put me way behind and sidelined my paratrooper ambitions. Instead, I found myself doing KP duty (aka “Kitchen Patrol”) at the Rangers training station, which was an enlightening and eye-opening experience.


With orders for Vietnam, I returned home for 30 days.  During that time, a local businessman by the name of N.A. Lukens told me about the exciting advancements in air conditioning. Little did I know how that conversation would change my life.


On May 4th, 1967, I began my year-long service in Vietnam. 


Yes, May has been a significant month in my life. And it’s about to be important for a whole new group of young people. 


To the graduating class of 2024, I say... you are surrounded by an abundance of opportunity. Don’t let it slip away. Southern Illinois, in particular, offers a wealth of prospects - many of which don't necessitate a college degree.


Consider the trades. Learn a craft. Work as an apprentice or job shadow someone in the industry. We can always use more welders, plumbers, electricians, and (of course) HVAC technicians. 


Invest in yourself. Don't wait for somebody else to invest in you. Be proud of what you do and how you do it. Deliver on your promises every day.


Oh, and attitude is everything.


So... what opportunity will you seize today?


Be well. Stay well. Thanks for readin’.


Francis Pass


P.S. – Congratulations Class of ’24.