Why Dave Thomas quietly went back to school after his Wendy's success

A lesson on the importance of an education.

When you hear "Dave Thomas," it's hard not to think Wendy's.

The soft-spoken, white-haired businessman — who died in 2002 at the age of 69 — famously turned an Ohio hamburger joint into one of America's most successful fast food chains.

This, I'm guessing, you probably already knew.


GIF via Wendy's/YouTube.

What you may not have known is that Thomas wasn't just about burgers and fries — he was a proud advocate of getting an education, too. I wasn't aware of this until I spotted a thread posted to Reddit on Sept. 3, 2015, that was getting quite a lot of attention.

Despite having never graduated, Thomas remained a staunch proponent of staying in school.

He dropped out when he was just 15 years old. And the decision haunted him.

"Dave was worried that his business success might discourage young people from finishing school," Frank Vamos, director of brand communications for Wendy's, told Upworthy. "One of Dave's biggest regrets was dropping out, saying it was one of the worst mistakes he'd made in his life."

Thomas encouraged kids to make education a priority. So when a high schooler questioned how Thomas could do that while he had dropped out, it inspired him to go back and hit the books. He was 61 years old.

In 1993, Thomas obtained his GED from Coconut Creek High School outside Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Yes, this was long after Wendy's had already made him an uber-successful business leader, so he certainly didn't need the resume booster.

Photo courtesy of The Wendy's Company.

Probably the most adorable part about this story ... not only was Thomas named "Most Likely to Succeed" by Coconut Creek's senior class (which he said "adopted" him as their own), they also voted him and his wife, Lorraine, the school's prom king and queen that year.

“After 45 years, I went back to school, studied for and got my GED," Thomas said of his accomplishment. "It wasn't easy, but it was worth it, and it's something I'm very proud of."

That pride inspired him to leave a lasting legacy that values education. After obtaining his GED, Thomas created the Wendy's High School Heisman program in 1994 to encourage students to get the most out of their high school experience. The program gives away thousands of scholarships to high school seniors every year.

Thomas' decision to go back to school was a good one, being a role model and all, because high school dropouts make way less money than graduates.

Don't take my word for it — let the numbers do the talking.

Photo via iStock.

It's also good to note that, despite valid arguments questioning the value of a college degree amid skyrocketing tuition costs these days, those who complete college still earn significantly more on average than those who don't. (Although it is fair to say college may not be for everyone, and that's OK.)

While I'm on the subject of making money, this is one area where Wendy's commitment to the value of education and getting paid well for your work doesn't quite hold up. The average crew member at Wendy's makes only $8.11 an hour — according to survey estimates from Glassdoor — even though many of them have high school (and even college) degrees.

But at least we can listen to one lesson from Dave that certainly holds true: It's never too late to go back to school.

If reaching academic success made self-made millionaire (and, let's just say it, everyone's honorary grandpa) Dave Thomas proud, I think we all should keep the value of an education in mind.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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