Education after Graduation

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

I am in the phase of life in which many family get-togethers focus on someone’s graduation from high school or college. With six grandchildren born between 1994 and 1999, there have been multiple graduation events in recent years. I think back to my graduation days and realize how much I did not yet know when I walked across the platform to collect a diploma. Completing a required list of courses or accumulating the mandatory number of credit hours does not make one educated. Experience does that.

Graduations used to be called commencements. They marked not the end of learning, but the start of experiential learning from the lessons life teaches us. For example, experience has taught me that often I can’t even recall the names of people who caused me the most consternation in school. Nor can I remember what they did that so annoyed me back then.

Experience has taught me that failure is as inevitable as rain, but it is not fatal. No one succeeds at everything. When I transferred from one college to another one course didn’t go with me. My grade in it was too low to transfer to the new college. No one has ever asked me about that failure. No one.

Time is Good Medicine

Things that once seemed so critically important, really don’t matter much at all a few years down the road of life. If I didn’t keep all my journals and periodically flip through old ones, I wouldn’t remember most of situations that once kept me tossing and turning all through the night.

One of my grandmother’s favorite sayings was, “This too shall pass.” I’ve discovered it’s good to remember that when events threaten to overwhelm me. Of course this cuts both ways. Problems that plague me now will fade away over time. Likewise, the moments of sheer joy I’ve experienced have also faded way. New challenges and joys have taken their place.

The Teeter Totter of Life

Some days I cannot believe my good fortune. All the lights turn green as I approach. There’s no line at the store, bank or post office. The new recipe turns out to be wonderful. Other days, every light turns red, traffic is at a standstill, there are long lines everywhere and recipes I’ve used for decades turn out barely edible. It’s good to adjust to being both up and down because experience has made it clear there will be plenty of both over the course of a life.

I remember the first time someone at work took credit for something I did. I was stunned. I wish I had handled it with grace and dignity. I did not. Instead, I fled to the women’s room and hid in a stall until I felt composed enough to return to my desk. Today, I remember the melt down but nothing more. I believe the sting of that moment has helped me be quick to give others credit for their contributions.

People Come and Go

Another saying of my grandmother’s was, “Everyone is a blessing. Some when they come. Others when they leave.” So many people have passed through my life. Some stayed long, some for only a moment. I was a sophomore in college when the man I thought would one day be my husband went to Viet Nam. We wrote back and forth for several months. One spring day I opened his “Dear Kathy” letter. He’d decided we should break it off. And that was that. A year of my life invested in someone I cared about very deeply – gone. My letters went unanswered and unreturned. He never sent another one. Years later I checked the book at the Washington D.C Viet Nam War Memorial. He wasn’t listed in it, which only indicated he probably didn’t die in action in Viet Nam. I think that experience has made me more sensitive to other people’s losses.

Impossible Things Do Happen

My father was fond of saying, “Nothing is impossible.” I don’t think that is quite true, but some things that seem highly unlikely turn out to be possible. Underdogs win elections. People with prison records start companies and hire other people with prison records. People who are told they’ll never walk again, do walk again.

I’ve seen my share of impossible situations unfold right in front of me. Once upon a time I was the Executive Director of a summer youth camp. We were desperate to improve our bottom line. The Board of Directors told me to secure a $10,000 gift. We intended to use that gift as a phone-a-thon challenge match to raise an additional $10,000. I procrastinated calling the only donor we had who could make such a sizeable gift. I put off making contact until the Thursday before the Saturday Board meeting when I would have to tell the Board whether or not I had secured the gift.

When I called the donor he asked a few appropriate questions. Then he said, “Just a minute.” As I waited I thought about out how I was going to tell the Board I didn’t get the gift we needed.  The donor came back a couple of minutes later to say, “No, I don’t think we want to do that. We’d rather make that a $25,000 donation.”  Experience has taught me that sometimes amazingly good things happen in spite of my efforts.

My college graduation was fifty years ago. Since then experience has taught me sometimes my best efforts will fail. Other times I may succeed where I was sure there was no way forward. Experience has taught me to weather the storms and savor the good times.

Congratulations all new graduates. May your failures be few, your friends many, and your education continual.