When I walked down the aisle on graduation day May 20, 1968, I was certain my school days were over. I drove away and thoughts of school faded from my mind like the image in a rearview mirror. I wanted to see what the world had to offer. I was proud and cocky, but I found that opportunities were few for a kid who thought he knew it all.
I managed to get a job with the Alabama Highway Department for the summer as a survey assistant. What this meant was I hustled to and fro with a surveyor’s stick and measured things.
After graduation, I lived at home with my parents and decided I wanted to go to college. My mother was delighted since no one else in the family had ever gone past high school. I enrolled at Jefferson State Junior College. In those days the college had a bus, and since I didn’t have a car, it was a natural choice.
I did well for the first few months until I learned just how fun you could have at college. My grades soon fell like a skydiver with an unopened parachute. The unfortunate thing for me was that my parents invented the No Pass, No Play rule long before it was enforced in high school athletics.
I stayed in school but I had to foot the bill. I quickly discovered that when you have to work your way through college you don’t have much time to party. You tend to do better on your dime than on someone else’s.
I attended Jeff State until Uncle Sam decided I was destined for more important things involving guns, radios and jeeps. After my stint in the Army and several job changes I went back to school at night and inched my way toward incremental degrees culminating in a MBA from Birmingham Southern in 1997, a mere 29 years from the time I started.
Since then I have to come to realize that college looks good on a resume, but most of my “real “ learning came from making mistakes. I now realize that an education does not make you “smart” and the lack of one does not make you “dumb.” I found that you learn a lot more by listening than by talking. I also discovered that no matter how hard you try, others would not love you until you love yourself.
I also learned that everyone is good at something. I went to elementary school with a young boy who was labeled slow by a teacher. He struggled with reading, writing and math. He was different. He was the object of cruelty from schoolmates. He was great with a pocketknife.
At the age of 10, he carved animals, fish and birds from small pieces of wood. He drew pictures with a pencil that looked like black and white photographs. He never finished grammar school but he was one of the kindest most talented people I ever knew.
I talked with him several years ago. He never went “far”, but he lives in a house he built himself debt free. He has a wife and kids who love him. He is happy.
I have invested a good portion of my life to school and I don’t regret it. It’s the path I chose. I’ve come to realize the more I learn the more I realize I don’t know squat. The best education any of us could hope for…be kind, be happy with yourself.