A few years ago, I was on tour with my first book when I was asked to speak at a small parochial grade school just south of Indianapolis. The audience was a group of junior high students who were thrilled to learn that I was not some 80-year-old, gray-haired nun waxing poetic about some long dead saint from Terre Haute, but I could also speak fluent Classic Rock as well.
After a half-hour chat about the book and answering questions about what it was like to be a “real” author, a boy near the back raised his hand. I expected him to ask one of the typical questions I usually receive at this type of thing such as: “Have you written anything else?” “Who were your favorite authors as a kid?” “Are you famous?” or maybe, “What is your favorite Zeppelin song?” but instead he surprised me by asking, “What was the most important lesson you learned in college?”
It was an inquiry that put me back on my heels for a minute. My first instinct was to talk about my craft and how my education helped me improve my writing style or balance my life with the demands of academia (keep in mind I was 30 before I pursued a college degree), but something in the back of my mind told me he needed something more…profound. In that moment, I decided to shoot from the hip and give it to him straight and this month, instead of my usual humor, I’ve decided to share that answer with you, dedicating it to every reader who is going back to school this semester, or contemplating an education in the near future:
The most important lesson I learned in college is that a college education is a venture in the only sure thing there really is in life…you. Let’s face it; there really are no guarantees. None of the major milestones we achieve are a one-sided proposition. We may grow up, learn to drive and buy that first car, but it will break down, may be involved in an accident and will ultimately need to be replaced. You will get jobs and you will lose jobs. You will buy a house only to have to replace the roof, furnace or call in a plumber on a Sunday morning for an outrageous fee. Some of you will get married but unfortunately, statistics say approximately 50 percent of you will end up divorced and I promise you your children will not do everything you expect them to so the only thing you can control in life is you and that begins with your college education.
You see a college education isn’t just more of the same old grind. It’s the time in which you see how everything fits together. Until now, you have been immersed in theory, but college is all about practical application and gaining experience in those areas that you are passionate about. If you are like me, you may have asked, “When am I ever going to use…?” but I assure you, there was not one class I took in college that I did not use in the real world. (Aside from algebra, of course.) College helped open my eyes to the world in a whole new way, made me a well-rounded, confident lifelong learner and gave me a transferrable skill set that will help me land on my feet no matter how rough the road gets.
But it only works if you devote yourself to it, remain committed and have the right attitude, because you are the only sure thing you have. Your success or failure rides on you. Not your major. Not your professors. Not your advisor. You. I make very few guarantees in life, but I promise you this: your college education will be the greatest investment you will ever make and the one thing you can truly bank on, or your biggest financial mistake. The choice is yours. Which will it be?
Good luck to everyone going back-to-school this year. My thoughts and best wishes go with you. Stick with it, never give up and know that I am rooting for you!