Today was a big day in Norfolk Virginia, for some the biggest day of their short life. I learned of the big event while chewing on a bagel at Borjo’s. Gradually the cafe filled with proud parents and ecstatic students in caps and gowns. It was December graduation at Old Dominion University, (ODU). Even a few professors popped in with their gowns on for a coffee and to wish their former students well. The most joyous or at least most dynamic new graduate was a girl with a perpetual smile and bright, lively eyes. From under her mortar board, adorned with momentos related to her major and life as a student flowed long, youthful, blond locks that twisted and curled all the way to her elbows. Intermittently she would give a cheer, raise her arms in victory and a family member would snap another photo. I couldn’t help but feel happy for her, her parents and her little brother. He was dressed in a blue “Future Farmers of America” jacket and politely asked if he could use the extra chair at my table.
ODU is not an Ivy League or “name school”. Nor does it attract “prodigies”; children coached from an early age and given all the financial and other support necessary to achieve early success. ODU is more of a school for late bloomers and self starters. People who had to deal with the necessities of life before they could pursue their educational dreams. Students that started the education game in the batters box not on third base. When they finally head for the plate they have touched all the bases and truly earned that home run.
Many students are active or ex-millitary or working adults. Often they are the first in their family to graduate from college and are paying for their education themselves. Military duty, war, poverty… those are things most traditional college students only read about. Many of the military and adult students at ODU have first hand experience with those harsh realities. Of course I would not want my child to live in poverty nor force them to experience the hardships of military service but to persevere through such challenges and still reach your academic goals is admirable. I would be happy to have my child learn with students who have done that.
Wanting the best for your child is natural but the desire of some parents to get their child into the “right college” has become an obsession and has created a multi-million dollar industry. Hiring coaches to help prepare your child for college admission tests and interviews as well as employing professional writers to help craft your child’s personal statement are all available if you have the money. It makes me wonder how much of the child’s homework is actually being done by the child and how personal the “personal statement” can be.
I don’t mean to give the impression I am against the traditional college experience or an Ivy League education. My wife is a second generation Ivy Leaguer and we both attended traditional as well as nontraditional colleges before going to medical school. But what school you graduate from has little if anything to do with living a happy, healthy and professionally fulfilling life.
College is a helpful life experience that takes place in a somewhat artificial environment. The test questions typical have only one correct answer and can easily be found in books based on someone else’s life experience. We confront the tough, complex questions during the decades that follow graduation and those questions can’t be answered by regurgitating what we’ve read or googling the question. A student’s passion, creativity, self confidence, problem solving skills and ability to communicate are far more important than their CV or the name of their college.
If I were a betting man I would bet that the dynamic blond is on her way to a happy, healthy and successful adult life. I certainly hope so. As for her younger brother I think his future looks pretty bright too. Even if he doesn’t become a future farmer.