Graduation Thoughts

I’m sincerely going to miss graduation tonight. Except for two years ago when my husband and I went on an anniversary to NYC, I’ve been to nearly three decades of them. I can’t state an exact number because in the early years, faculty attendance wasn’t required. As time went by, however, the event became bigger and of greater importance.  That was okay by me because I enjoyed the pomp and circumstance and the excitement of the graduates and their families.

The sure knowledge that I would have a full life without attending graduation was one of the factors that let me know it was time to retire. There were others that I don’t have the time or inclination to recount tonight. Suffice it to say that there were several. Okay, here’s just one. My daughter Carrie was expecting her fifth child, and teaching on a full-time basis would prohibit me from jumping in the car and driving the three hours to her house just because.

My  husband and I have often talked about how a person needs to know when to hold them and when to fold them, and last year when I took off my cap and gown, I know that it was time to fold them. So off we went to Myrtle Beach and had a midnight breakfast at a Waffle House. I still remember the young man working there that night. From Virginia, he shared some of his life story with us, and I gave him the big pep talk about getting an education.

This year we’re in Helen, GA getting ready to go out to dinner. It’s probably going to be German cuisine instead of waffles and bacon. We’ll be walking down the streets of Helen trying to find just the right restaurant about the time my friends and colleagues are sitting in their hot robes witnessing the accomplishments of their students and enjoying the ambience of the evening. I’ll be there in spirit (whatever that means exactly).

As my friend Martha said on facebook earlier today, lots of young people have overcome many odds to walk across that stage tonight. So have many older ones! To quote Martha, “Blessings rain on  them!”

Three Graduates

Three of the men in my life are recent graduates, one from 4-year-old preschool, one from high school, and one from college. As I watched my little grandson Braden march across the stage in his blue cap and gown last night, I couldn’t help but think that that was just the first of many rites of passage he will experience. I also thought about how even though he was graduating, he was also participating in a commencement ceremony; he’s just beginning his educational experiences.

 

Then my mind wondered a bit as I thought of something I’ve read many times:  All low-income countries have one trait in common when it comes to schooling, that being that there isn’t much of it. In the poorest nations only half of the kids ever get to school, and for the world as a whole, only half of all children ever get to the secondary grades. As a result, about one third of people round the globe can’t read or write. Aren’t we fortunate? Here in America, education is considered a right. It’s too bad that more people don’t take advantage of it.

 

Can anyone deny the value of education? For starters, post secondary education is linked to a better job and more satisfying career, better health and a longer life, and a certain amount of social mobility. Schooling affects both occupation and income because most (but not all) of the better-paying, white-collar jobs require a college degree or other advanced study. And get this, only three percent of adults who have a college education live below the poverty line whereas high school drop outs are ten times more likely to be living in poverty. In addition to higher earnings, people who continue their education past high school are more likely to hold jobs that have a lower accident risk.

 

The number of years of education is one of the best predictors of health. Compared to less educated adults, those who spend more years in school have lower death rates, lower disease rates, and lower disability. This association remains even after age, sex, race, and marital status are taken into account. I’m not sure why this is the case, but it could be because people with some postsecondary education have more fulfilling work, a sense of personal control, and a healthier lifestyle. Actually, I’ve got lots of ideas about this, but that’s a post for another day.

 

A sociology professor of years past told his class that two variables went into a person’s social status: the family he or she was born into and the person’s education. An individual doesn’t have much control over her parents, but she can sure choose whether or not she pursues her education or not. That’s the ticket, according to my old professor, and I believed him then…still do. 

 

I’m proud of Braden, Chris, and Paul, and I hope they realize that they’re fortunate to be living in a country which permits, even encourages, its citizens to get an education. Keep it up, Guys, if you want to have better jobs, live healthier and longer lives, be more financially secure, and experience a bit of social mobility.