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Education crowns the royalty in a cowboy's kingdom

Published on October 12, 2012 3:01AM

Last changed on November 9, 2012 9:10AM

Ryan M. Taylor

Ryan M. Taylor


For the Capital Press

You probably wouldn't guess it if you saw me on the ranch working cattle with manure on my jeans or stuck under a hay baler scraping bloody knuckles to change a few pickup teeth, but I was a king once.

No, I don't have blood in my veins from any British royalty, even though Taylor is an English name. And although three-quarters of my heritage is Norwegian, I can lay no claim of relation to King Olav, or Harald, or Haakon. My Norwegian ancestors probably wouldn't have come to America if they were royal. They came because they were dirt-poor and looking for a better life.

I was no European king, heck, I'm not even a burger king. No, I was the king of the bison. Not the American bison, also known as the buffalo, shaggy headed herbivore of the great plains. I was king of the NDSU Bison, the students and faculty of North Dakota State University, land grant university of our beloved North Dakota.

This was 21 years ago. My senior year of college I aspired to fetch degrees in agricultural economics and mass communication in a reasonable time while working a job, applying for scholarships and signing the dotted line on the student loan papers.

I was the first in my family to have such a lavish opportunity, to be able to go to college and graduate with degrees of higher education. Dad left school after the 10th grade to go to work for area ranchers and help support his widowed mother and siblings. Mom graduated from high school in 1950, but as a first-generation American and child of the Depression, she never even thought of college as a possibility.

But we make progress here on the great plains of North Dakota, and one generation later, there I was at NDSU, going to class, making good grades, having more fun than a guy ought to, and winding up on the Homecoming court of possible kings and queens.

We had interviews to get on the court, and then the students voted on who their king would be. So it wasn't such a traditional monarchy, it wasn't lineage that got me the crown, it was the democratic process of voting. That's a good thing since I was no multigeneration legacy on the campus.

So it all came together -- the cowboy and cowgirl voting bloc, the ag school, a few honor society friends, and others. And there I was -- king. Tonight I go back to NDSU's homecoming to relive some of the glory days, and I wonder if anyone really bothered to remember when the cowboy was king.

What I remember most about that senior year was not the crowning, the parade, my "reign" over the festivities or the win over the South Dakota Coyotes. What I remember most vividly from that year was graduation day when my father, who never came to homecoming, never came to any other college event, came to my college graduation.

This rancher who didn't drive four hours away from the ranch for much of anything, came to commencement and as I walked by him in my cap and gown, I looked up in the bleachers and saw that stoic cowboy with a 10th grade education with tears running down this cheek.

Surely he figured that our family had made it. He had a son graduating from our public land grant university. Maybe I was the king who had won the crown, but Dad, I think, was the real king that day because he got to see the results of his sacrifice to raise us and help us as best he could, so we could get an education more valuable than any crown. He made a fine king.


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