It has been two years to the day since I walked across the stage at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and accepted my new position as a college alumnus. When I think about the fact that it has been that long it really blows my mind. In some ways it doesn’t feel like two years, but in others it does. So much has happened in my life since then, and it can all be attributed to the blessings of God and the experience I got in college. And to think, I was one of the people who considered a gap year (not that there’s anything wrong with doing that, of course)!
Since my college graduation I have worked in a library, I have been a newspaper reporter, and now I am a marketing representative for one of the best and coolest theatres on the planet! I have taught a writing workshop to authors with decades more experience than myself, I have been published in local journals and have continued to be true to my own writing both on this blog and in my novels and short stories, while also starting my own online book club. Personally, I think those things are some pretty big accomplishments.
The selfish and arrogant part of my brain almost wants to say “well, Damean, that’s because you’re awesome,” but how “awesome” would I be if I hadn’t gone to college? How many of those experiences never would have happened if I hadn’t decided to take six more years of my life for education?
I have been writing for most of my life, of course, but even that has changed because of college. Looking back at the original ideas and versions of some of my work I sometimes actually laugh at how immature my voice was. Because of my college education I have been exposed to centuries of incredible literature and writing methods. I have had mentors work with me on my academic papers and my personal writing, which has changed the way I see things in many ways. I have been given the chance to write for multiple newspapers and experience a completely different style of writing that has enhanced how I view and handle my personal work. In turn, because of my time as a reporter, I have had some awesome experiences and have been able to relay some heartwarming, as well as tragic, news to thousands of people.
On the employment front I have to openly admit that, in high school, I was qualified to do only a handful of things, including write and run a cash register. Now, I have written more, gone more into the retail element by running departments and managing employees, and I have entered the professional work front with some really awesome jobs. Because of the experience I received at UVa-Wise I was able to work as a library specialist at a local community college, I was able to share breaking and interesting news to thousands for a year as a county reporter, and now I’m working at the longest-running professional theatre in the nation! That thought still blows my mind. I grew up just an hour away from Barter Theatre and it was always an amazing thing to just come and witness, and now I’m a part of the team here. And I would never have been able to do it without my education and experience.
The point here is that, for all those graduating high school and thinking about your futures, college is often the best choice you can make. I remember how I felt graduating high school, though. I wanted to take a year off and ‘see the world’. Granted, my version of the world, without a good paying job, didn’t extend much farther than the middle of Tennessee, North Carolina or the other states surrounding my own. I made a choice, though. I chose, despite my own desire to rely on myself and my writing for a while, to go to college and get a degree and put my fate in the hands of the higher education system. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Because of my time in college I met some amazing people, and my life has been forever improved.
I know that a lot of the time it seems like 13 years of school is enough (14 if you did pre-k), but believe me when I say it’s the extra 2, 4, 6 or 7 (or more) years that really make the difference. You might think you have your life planned when you walk out of prom and prepare to get that cap and gown and start your post-public education state of life, but don’t be fooled. The world has changed quite a bit. It used to be very possible to walk into a local company and get an internship or apprenticeship with little more than a high school degree and a give ’em Hell attitude. Not anymore. Higher education is something most businesses require now. Without a college degree, the doors of the employment world kind of close tight.
So, as many of you graduate college, be thankful for that experience. If you’re going into the job market or going on to grad school, take the time to consider just what difference your choice made for you. What experiences have you had that wouldn’t have been possible without college? And for those of you who are in that limbo state of deciding to wing it or go to college in the first place; really think about it. The idea of taking the world in your own hands and trying to forge a path with a high-school diploma and a dream might seem great, but it won’t be easy. Not that college is a piece of cake, but that’s a different story. If you’re on the fence, the best advice I can give is this; take the summer. Put in some applications, take your three free months and experience something new. Think about you. Do what makes you happy. Go somewhere new, spend time with friends, let go of school for a while. And when you finally feel like you again, when your brain isn’t cowering in the corner of your skull at the thought of having more knowledge crammed into it, think about what kind of life you want. Decide who you want to be and what you want to do. Figure out what is going to make you feel the most satisfied in life. Then figure out what it’s going to take to make that happen. The answer just might surprise you.
Have a good week, a good weekend, a good summer and a good life. Congrats to all those graduates out there. Let’s all raise our glasses to those who survived high school, college, university, and grad school. There were most certainly times when you thought you wouldn’t make it – but you did. Congratulations. Now enjoy your life and do what makes you you!