Sunday, November 16, 2014

Good Morning Justin

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 16 November

Good Morning Justin…

A college student I know says his education costs sixty thousand dollars a year.  It’s a private school in upstate New York so maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised at the small fortune required to get a degree.  State schools are more reasonable but students today are still required to take on enormous debt in order to get a higher education.  That means you are soon faced with stiff monthly payments once you receive your diploma and become a bright jobseeker, intent on landing a well-paying position in a highly competitive environment.  You can’t afford to founder and be branded a deadbeat at the start of your adult career.  Living at home well into your twenties implodes the hard-fought self-respect you earned attaining good grades while tackling challenging subjects.  A person is likely to second-guess their choices.  You find a Bachelor’s degree in biology certifies you to clean out animal cages and wash test tubes while you work on a more advanced degree.  You better know who you are, what you want and have a realistic career strategy by your sophomore year if you are to avoid writing blogs about life viewed from the sidelines.  What a picture; you still in your pajamas tapping away on your laptop just beneath your framed diploma.  It’s a good thing your phone’s disconnected – what with all the creditors menacing you.

This is not the first time eager graduates have been thrown a curve by the economy.  I remember a story many years ago of a man with a Ph.D. in physics having to settle for driving a cab in San Francisco.  At least he wasn’t faced with paying off crushing debt.  During those years the cost of textbooks for your courses cost more than your tuition at California state-sponsored universities.  What a dream that was.  It allowed you to experiment, find out who you were, what you liked.  You could change majors without fear if you liked.  It was even feasible for a student with little means to get a degree in topics like Art History or English Literature or Drama.  No, you weren’t likely to get a job in your field of study.  Chances are you wound up watering plants at a local nursery but you were free of creditors.  You could pull up stakes and move to a small mountain town in Arizona.  Here you would work as a DJ for minimum wage while you worked on your first novel – never to be published.  Friends would be getting married, buying new cars and setting career goals for where they wanted to be five years hence.  That’s OK.  You had the great outdoors and a good deal of free time to enjoy it.

I’m at the age of collecting Social Security.  I never figured out what I wanted to do for a living.  It was a life largely of improvisation.  It’s not a strategy that brings a tidy pension once you reach retirement.  Still, I doubt if I could have been successful working any other way.  I hated giving up the time it took to be practical.

The schools thought it a good idea to learn speed reading when I was a kid.  I think President Kennedy was said to read over twelve hundred words a minute.  The trick was to search for key words and phrases as you skimmed down the page.  Yeah, I think most people call this approach skimming.  I hated it.  It’s like stuffing your mouth and spend five minutes eating during your lunch hour.  There was no time for appreciating anything.  I would gladly skim through topics I didn’t care for in school.  Most books, though, I preferred to savor. 

Feel free to get your degree in a field that promises you a prosperous career if that’s your desire.  Raise a happy family and find a pot of gold at the end of your rainbow.  This is the path chosen by those fortunate enough to appreciate its demands.  I’m sorry it didn’t work for me.  I’m still willing to try.  Give me a ring if you know someone willing to pay me for photographing moths in a field somewhere.  I’ve also got some doodles I’d love to have marketed as posters.  I’m always game for starting over in something new.


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