When my father, Alfred, was 14, he joined his father, brother, uncles and cousins in the coal mines to help put food on the table.
When the last of the local mines closed in the 1960s, my father wanted to emigrate to the United States to work in the coal mines in West Virginia, or in Pennsylvania. But his mother, my grandmother, had been crippled from hard labor. My father couldn’t leave, so he stayed in northern England until he died in 2012. My mother still lives in my hometown today.
While his dream of emigrating to America was thwarted, my father loved America, its culture, its history and its role as a beacon of hope in the world. He always wanted someone in the family to make it to the United States.
I began my University studies in 1984, and in 1987 I won a place on an academic exchange to the Soviet Union. I was there for the signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and when President Ronald Reagan met Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow. This was a turning point for me. An American professor who I met there told me about graduate student scholarships to the United States, and the very next year, thanks to his advice, I arrived in America to start my advanced studies at Harvard.