Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending a graduation party for a member of my church. He had just graduated from UMKC with a bachelor’s degree in economics while working full-time. He just celebrated his 40th birthday, so his achievement was remarkable in many respects.

First, there are many difficult degree programs at UMKC, but economics has to be among the most difficult. I took one economics class at UMKC in 1973, and it was the most difficult class I had in all of my years of college, which includes a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in public administration and my law degree. I struggled to make a C in the class. Thus, I can only imagine how difficult the upper-level economic classes were based on my experience in the introductory class. I knew my friend, Brian English, was intelligent, but I did not know he had “off the charts” smarts.

Secondly, it is amazing that he was able to work full time and attend school. Brian works with my friend, Josh Patterson, at Follow Me Construction, a property maintenance and construction business. Brian supervises all of the work in Kansas City, which means he must schedule over 20 employees and make sure the work gets completed in a timely manner. Brian worked in construction years ago, so he knows the trade, but managing this work while attending college is noteworthy.

I worked my junior year in college driving a delivery truck for my father’s laundry and dry-cleaning business. I would perform my work around my classroom schedule and managed to do both, but neither task very well. My grades suffered dramatically in my junior year, which probably delayed my entrance to law school. As I look back, it was a great experience for me as it taught me how to multi-task, and delaying my entry into law school was not a bad thing as I would have been barely 21 years old when I graduated from college and I was frankly not ready for law school. I did not do well on the admission test for law school and so it was good that I obtained a master’s degree, which better prepared me for the rigors of law school.

The third amazing part of Brian’s college graduation was the fact that he was 40 when he graduated. Brian has a 2-year old son and a beautiful wife, so he was supporting his family while attending classes and studying in his spare time. Brian is one the leaders in our church and so he also threw that role into his already busy schedule to make life more complicated.

The final remarkable aspect of Brian’s college graduation is that the reason he was not getting a degree until he was 40 was because Brian spent a significant part of his life fighting addiction and evading the police while conducting an illegal business and then also serving time in prison. If you had told Brian 20 years ago that he would someday be a college graduate, marry a beautiful young lady, have a child, own a home and live a prosperous life inside the bounds of the law, he would likely have told you that you were the one taking mind-altering drugs.

Brian is a proud man, obviously intelligent and very determined. By the way, he is also investing in real estate by finding apartment buildings for sale at bargain prices, doing the necessary rehab on them and then renting them to pay off the debt so he has future income. He does this in his spare time.

Brian does all of this while being a devoted husband and father. His wife’s family put together the surprise graduation party last Saturday night at an apartment complex clubhouse in Shawnee. That my wife and I were invited to the party made us both very proud and privileged.

As I left the party after spending a few hours conversing with those at the party, I remarked to Brian how loving and warm his family was. Brian married a young lady from Ethiopia, and her entire family was there. I don’t want to make this column about the benefits of immigration, but I will tell you that the 30 Ethiopians at that party of all ages were wonderful people. We had a taste of Ethiopian food, which was actually quite good. Yet the best part of the evening was watching the interaction among those present.

As the evening drew to a close Brian was sitting in a circle with my wife and me, his best friends Richie and Joshua Patterson, and Ricky and Kristen Beach. Brian and Richie’s friendship began at a young age and they started down the same path of life and addiction together. Ricky is the chaplain at the Wyandotte County jail and met Brian through our church. Ricky has been a strong influence on Brian.

Ironically, Brian and Josh were in the same Bible study at the Cameron Correctional facility and did not know each other until they came to Maywood Baptist. They share a similar story of redemption along with Richie and the three of them are part of the miracle team at Maywood. Brian always gives credit to Jesus for changing him and his life. He is getting ready to begin a two-year program of training to become a minister in our church. Undoubtedly, the best years of his life are on the near horizon.

Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, Email him at