My daughter lamented in her blog recently about the fact that she didn’t graduate from college. She even went so far as to say that she is “ashamed” that she didn’t graduate. As her mother, and as someone who has a Master’s degree in School Administration, I have to say that I have mixed feelings about that statement. First of all, I went back to school when I was over 40 and I have friends from 35 to 55 who have done or are doing the same thing. If it means that much to you, or you need a degree to advance in your career, then go back to school. Give up something, make some changes in your life, and get it done! Even one class is a start.
However, I know from my own experience that completing college is not the magic answer for all of life’s problems, nor does having that piece of paper transform you into a smarter, better person. It doesn’t really even make you a better choice for a job. I watched many of my classmates obtain their degree “by the skin of their teeth” as my mother would say. That piece of paper doesn’t say that you only met the bare minimum of the state’s requirements or had the lowest grades in class. It doesn’t say that you cheated on tests or paid someone else to do observations and papers for you. It doesn’t say that you took the easiest courses available. Yet I watched dozens of students do all of those things while I labored long into the night and spent countless hours at the library studying to earn the highest marks I could. So I knew when I stood beside my peers at graduation that our degrees were not equal, nor did they even represent the same college experience. A degree is just a piece of paper that says you put in your time and maybe, just maybe, you also did the work you were asked to do.
I will be the first to admit that my degree allowed me to change my life and have a career and be the professional that I always wanted to be. I am happy with my choice, I’m doing what I love, and I’m making more money than I could make without it. Many careers require that piece of paper and many employers won’t even talk to you without it. But there are lots of people out there with the same piece of paper who are not working. The unemployment figure for trained professionals is staggering. And there are people who get their degree and find out they made the wrong choice. They enjoyed the process of getting the degree and studying their subject, but they are not happy in the actual job they obtained with it. There are also people with good jobs and good salaries and good lives who don’t need a piece of paper to prove their worth. And getting a degree wouldn’t make anything in their life better.
I toyed with the idea of getting my doctorate. Then I compared the time and effort vs. the benefits in salary and advancement and decided that I didn’t need another piece of paper. I am quite confident that I could do the work and earn the degree, but it would serve no logical purpose in my life. I would only enjoy the little ego boost of having someone call me Dr. Maurer.
My own mother didn’t finish high school. She got married, had children, and worked hard at any job she could find. She also read voraciously and loved to learn new things. She spent her whole life educating herself and was smarter and more knowledgeable than half the college graduates I know. In fact, for a time she edited term papers and reports for several local college students. Friends and family and co-workers don’t ask to see your degree. They don’t evaluate your worth by looking at a piece of paper. They look at your life! They assess your actions and values and relationships.
My granddaughter is going to college and I hope that what she is doing helps her make the life choices she wants to make. But if she attends college for a while and decides that it is not for her that is okay too. Or if she gets that piece of paper and decides to enter a career that doesn’t match what she studied or doesn’t require a degree that’s okay too. The truth of life is that even one year after you get that piece of paper no one ever asks to see it unless you are applying for a job. They only see what you are doing with your life! I don’t make friends or agree to work with people or read what they have written or accept what they say based on whether or not they have a piece of paper with a fancy title on it.
A college degree is just a piece of paper. It’s a rather flimsy thing upon which to base your self-worth.
P.S. That first photo is of me on the SOSU campus in 1968. Next is 1995. Last is 1998.