To Infinity and Beyond…

GraduationMy son and I were discussing education a few months ago. High school graduations, who was applying where, and whether they had been accepted provided ready conversation as many of our young waited for responses to college applications. Our conversation eventually got around to my short-lived formal education.

I don’t remember what the speaker said at my own high school commencement ceremony.  He (it had to have been a man in those days) must have talked about hopes and dreams and future accomplishments. And I must have had those dreams.  But I think I got my ideas from Seventeen magazine which guaranteed that they were fairly shallow and highly unrealistic.  I remember considering Vassar which would have been financially impossible and a horrible fit for me.

I turned 17 the last week of my senior year. It was an era of mixed expectations for my sisters and I, exemplified  by my two gifts. I must have convinced my parents to buy me that charcoal grey hard-sided Samsonite suitcase which I still own. Maybe my friends were getting luggage. Mom and Dad would not have considered it a necessity since I could walk to the local college where I had a full-tuition scholarship.

A Lane cedar chest was the traditional gift in my family. The hope chest. I was expected to fill it with the treasures I would need for my certain marriage. That would be my career.

What were my parents plans for me? I don’t remember them saying. I know that when I decided to get married after my first term of college it was my brother-in-law who urged me to get my education first. An older sister agreed with him. It wasn’t important enough to me, however, and soon after my marriage I dropped out of school. And although my husband kept trying, family responsibilities ended his college education after several years grueling years of working while studying.

As I recounted my memories to my son, he reminded me of a family heritage that I had never recognized. Higher education was not the norm in my family. A faded photograph records that my father’s brother graduated from college.  I wasn’t aware of that when I was young, but I know that his accomplishment was singular in that generation of my parents families.

The older sister of graduation memories in my last post was the most ambitious of my siblings. She married while in college, but she and her husband both received their degrees. She had a career (teaching) AND a child…ground-breaking in our family.

Great change came in one generation. By the time our children left high school it was assumed that they would go to college. Of course. What else? It has become the new paradigm of our family. High school graduation is a stepping stone to further education.

It is no longer a question of whether our grandchildren will apply to college, but where they will apply. If they don’t immediately matriculate, it will have a name…a gap year.

None of this changes the value of my family tradition of life-long learning.

My mother and father each finished high school after they were married. Until my son reminded me,I hadn’t given a lot of credit to my parents for their tenacity in getting their diplomas and taking college courses while raising six children. They each read voraciously and continued to study new ideas  into their advanced years. My father bought a computer for his writings and communication (email) when he was in his eighties.

I follow in my parents footsteps. Although I haven’t returned to college, I pursued and received accreditation for specific designations important to my career. And I am fascinated by philosophies and languages of the world and continue to read and study.

One method is not better than the other. Each has its place.

Not everyone will go to college. Even trade school may be out of reach. But education?  It’s always available. And no amount of formal schooling, no impressive letters behind one’s name can take the place of lifelong curiosity, willingness to learn, and openness to the unknown. Lifelong learning of some sort is probably the key to ongoing fulfillment. Especially if one throws in the love, enlightenment, expansiveness and inclusiveness that make it all worthwhile.


June 13, 2012


  1. Your story about your parents is very much like mine about my father’s generation. My father’s eldest brother was the only one to go to college and he retired as a highly respected Principal of a well known college. All his siblings dropped out of school and the sisters bar the youngest were not sent to school at all! My generation however saw to it that we acquired degrees by going to college or as in my case, by pursuing distant education while working. The next generation both boys and girls, however have all gone to college, acquired fancy qualifications from Indian and/or foreign universities and are highly successful young people.

    I still maintain that my MBA got me a job through campus recruitment. I learnt all I needed by hands on work experience. The MBA came in handy to use jargon, and nothing more.

    Like you, I acquired additional credits by being sponsored by my employers for special advance courses in some of the world’s fanciest colleges. At this stage of my retired life, some of that theoretical knowledge comes in handy, but I do find myself dated!


  2. Life-long learning is what makes me feel alive. Education is very important to me, and I’m still at uni (at almost 30, oh my …). Anyway, I don’t have a prospect of having a relationship, I’m all on my own. It’s not that I actively want to, it just didn’t happen. And that’s fine. I don’t have to make compromises due to having children or a partner, so I invest all my time and energy into my own learning and making progress. I just do the things that seem right for the time I’m in right now, soooooooo … Haha, whatever. 😉


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