I sat back in the chair, my body was there but I was miles away within. It was late August--time for Dad's annual academics lecture. And so it began: "Ben, do you want to go to college?" "Here we go," I said to myself thinking the question ridiculous, for I always knew I would attend college, and had no choice for that matter. So I responded with the usual mindless, "of course." "Well, maybe you should seriously ask yourself why," Dad fired back. There then fell an extended silence between us. I kept expecting to hear the usual "get yourself in gear" rhetoric, but it never came. Nor did I speak. I had never given much thought to why I wanted to go to college, which left me totally unprepared to answer. Finally Dad said, "Well, it's up to you. Let's go get something to eat." Dad was quick this time. His nonchalance knocked me off my game. I did not know how to respond, and he said nothing more about it either--highly unusual on both our parts.
During dinner the light bulb came on--it is all up to me. I realized I had a choice of monumental proportions to make, and I must put up or shut up. I thought, "What do I want? What do others expect? What should I do?" One thing was clear. Until this juncture, others have seemed more interested in my future--particularly my education--than I have. So, I tried to recall some of the oft-repeated advice I had so tried to block out over the years.
My Grandfather "Papaw," for instance, has spared no effort--and I mean NO effort--in providing me examples to illustrate the importance of college. "Ben, now don't do like me. You need to try hard in school and get a college degree," he says. Papaw grew up in rural West Tennessee, and quit grammar school to work until he was old enough to join the Air Force. His reasoning deals mainly with practical matters like money and career, those things designed that provide for ... mostly physical needs. His view reflects the experience of two completed careers and three children, and it is clear to Papaw (and so I'm also painfully aware) that a college degree would have made his life easier in any number of practical ways. "If I had a college diploma I could have had it easier, made a better salary or retired as an officer like your dad," he says. Papaw makes sense.
Enter my Dad. He's been to college "twice," (as he likes to say) and is a career Marine Corps officer. His perspective is somewhat different than Papaw's--and most others for that matter. I sometimes think he fancies himself an amateur philosopher. "Never underestimate the value of a liberal education, at the very least you'll be interesting at cocktail parties," he often jokes. He agrees with Papaw about the practical benefits fo education, yet Dad, the quintessential liberal arts man, passes up no opportunity to comment on those who have "the ridiculous notion that the purpose of college is to get a completion certificate." He loves to quote someone named Mortimer Adler (who apparently enjoys godlike status at Dad's graduate school), "Ben, there are three objectives of school: preparation for earning a living; preparation for intelligent fulfillment of civic duty; and preparation for fulfilling our moral obligations to lead a morally good life, enriched by continued learning." Dad's out there, but he makes sense too.
Good advice from two good people for sure, but this is still my decision. So, the real questions remain to be answered: do I and why? The answer to the first is easy. Yes, I certainly want to go to college. However, it's the why that has taken the most thought (which must have pleased Dad immensely). Of course I want to make a decent living, and while doing it, to be able to look in the mirror each morning and like what I see. College is important as a first step toward achieving that goal, but I also want much more in my life. I want to be a better, more productive member of society who participates and makes informed, sound decisions. I want to