The esteemed leader of the Indian Civil Rights Movement, Mahatma Gandhi, sagely prescribed for the ages, “Live as if you will die tomorrow. Learn as if you will live forever.” As I mature, the probity of this advice rings louder and with more validity. Over the years, my zest to learn and expand my intellectual horizons has intensified with each passing year. To that end, I fully embrace the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who declared “Education is the best provision for old age.”
The road I traversed on my journey to higher learning was not direct or expedient; being much more circuitous and very deliberate in pace. (Think the tortoise on a serpentine road course more than the hare on a straight away.) Graduating from high school in 1977, I possessed neither the money nor the grades to attend college.
Never an industrious student while toiling through 1st – 12th grades (for all of you non-Baby Boomers reading this, kindergarten was not a requirement back in the day), I did manage to rally my senior year but by then the damage to my GPA had been done. I was left with the remorse one acknowledges upon realizing what could have been achieved had earlier endeavor been equal to later commitment. Alas, we live and learn; or, as German philosopher, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, asserted “By seeking and blundering we learn.”
While departing high school sans the pedigree of a hearty formal education, I was fortunately learned. Having read hundreds of books during study halls I opted to take instead of traditional classes provided me with knowledge and understanding of a diverse portfolio of topics and most importantly, a keen desire to learn more.
Over time, I became determined to overcome the foibles of my high school experience by testing the reality of Leonardo da Vinci’s claim that “Learning never exhausts the mind.” More directly, I decided to embrace the 2nd First Lady of the United States, Abigail Adams’ contention “Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”
Ironically, the Army proved to be my springboard to higher academia. My service in uniform provided:
- The money – thanks G.I Bill,
- The incentive – graduation from Officer Candidate School and commissioning as a Second Lieutenant required an undergraduate degree
- The opportunity – military leadership cultivates educational excellence and progress
This allowed me to rectify the scholastic shortfalls of my youth. I was inspired to learn and with vigor to embrace the mantra of South African leader, Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
I clutched the opportunity for college in a bear hug and refused to let go. I was determined to make up for lost time and atone for squandered chances. Over two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher, Plutarch noted “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”
Not to be out done, two centuries later, the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, said essentially the same thing, perhaps more eloquently, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” (Begging the question, is it still plagiarism if the perp is an esteemed essayists???) I was ready to light the fire.
When I ultimately graduated from college I earned the honor of being the first member in my ENTIRE family tree to achieve this academic distinction. I held this banner for several years until my children, first my oldest daughter, Allison, then Rachel and Jenna, and a few second cousins joined the ranks several years later.
When I earned my Master’s Degree, I again elevated my standing and remained there alone for a few years until Rachel joined ranks with me last year. The aforementioned Jenna is close behind us and is on a trajectory to someday earn the vaunted Ph.D. The three of us embrace the great English-American political activist, Thomas Paine’s credo, “The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.”
The 20th Century civil rights activist, Malcolm X, once noted “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” I could not agree more. The value I place on education cannot be overstated. Every day I provoke myself to learn something new. This blog is, in essence, a manifestation of this self-challenge. I firmly believe the words of Russian playwright, Anton Chekov, who wrote “Wisdom comes not from age, but from education and learning.”
I ask all of you to continue the pursuit for knowledge. It does not have to be in the formal setting of a classroom – truth be known most of the significant lessons I learned over the last 58 years happened far away from academia. You can expand your educational horizons as distant from the classroom as you can within its close proximity. It is up to you. At the risk of sounding like a cliché, some of the smartest people I have ever met lacked a robust formal education.
The willingness to learn is only governed by the one’s desire. The 17th Century Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, wrote “The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.” Always learn and always strive to be free.
In the Second Fifty, NEVER stop learning. You owe it to yourself. Because as the English playwright Oscar Wilde noted, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”
This blog entry is dedicated to US Army Command Sergeant Major Retired, Dr. Mack Vereen. My first mentor, CSM Vereen was my basic training drill sergeant and the person most responsible for molding me into the military leader I became. CSM Vereen retired as the Command Sergeant Major of the US Army Infantry School. I was in good hands. As he would always introduce himself to us: “Bravo Company, have no fear. Rock of the Marne is here. Black, and in OD Green.”
The quote I used for this entry’s title was uttered by Abraham Lincoln years before he became the 16th President of the United States.