In my defense, and at the risk of sounding a little braggadocios, I grew up in a farming context where formal education was not highly prioritized. Thus, my grandfather quit school at the end of the third grade to go home and work on the farm. All his life thereafter, he could barely read, could write little more than his own name, and knew only the rudiments of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
His son (and my father) later followed suit and quit school after the tenth grade. He could read and write; but when the world changed and he could no longer make a living farming, he regretted not ever having finished school. So much so that, in mid-life, he pursued his general equivalency diploma in order to progress in the modern working world.
Hence, when I graduated high school at age seventeen, I had technically accomplished something no male member of my family had ever done. And when I then graduated from a major southern university four years later, I had truly taken a step into the unknown.
But I thank God for my education. It clearly opened a lot of doors for me down through the years that would not have otherwise been opened. I also learned a lot in those four years, not only in the subjects in which I double-majored, but in life as well. Many of those lessons have also served me well down through the years.
Naturally, I wanted all three of my children to go to college as well. I am thankful that they each did, and also that they each graduated with degrees from state universities. As did their respective spouses. There is little doubt that they are where they are this day in life due largely to their educational achievements.
And now, I find myself in the position of hoping that my seven grandsons will one day follow suit. Having said this, I realize that the world is changing. In many respects, college degrees are no longer valued in ways that they once were. Nor are they necessarily needed. After all, no less an individual than Bill Gates quit Harvard to start a computer business! And Elon Musk quit graduate school at Stanford to go into business on his own!
Still, I continue to believe in the value of education. In my own case, I followed by Bachelor’s degree up with both a Master’s and a Doctoral Degree. But increasingly, what I truly value in a person is the ability to learn from life and then to apply what they have learned, irrespective of their level of formal education.
Thus it was that a little impromptu exchange that recently took place between my oldest grandson and myself was so heartening to me. The little league baseball team he plays on (as either pitcher or as first baseman) managed to go undefeated for the whole season. At their little awards picnic following the final game, they enjoyed pizza and cake. Thereafter, each player was given a bag of goodies and a trophy.
At the conclusion, as he brought his newfound hoard over to show his grandmother and me, I jokingly told him to give me that trophy, so I could put it in my own room at my own house. (I am forever teasing him, his brothers, and his cousins in just such a way.) He looked at me, and shaking his head from side to side in response, said flatly: “NO, you gotta earn it!”
I put on quite a big show of acting all disappointed; but inside I was shouting to beat the band! Why? Because, from my perspective, at the tender young age of six, he had already learned one of the single most important lessons there is to learn in all of life: “You gotta earn it!”
A flood of memories came back upon me… I could hear the truths being poured into me as a young lad as both my father and grandfather said things to me like: “Nothin’ in life is free, son!”; “There ain’t no free lunch, boy!”; “You can have anything in life if you will just work for it!”; “All your life, remember this – nobody owes you anything!”; “Whatever you want you can have – you just gotta pay for it!”; and yes… “If you want it, then go earn it!”
Sorry to be a bragging grandfather here, but my wife and I are starting to feel pretty good about the first grandson down the shoot. If he spends the next half century knowing he has to earn it, and then truly does so, he’ll turn out okay!
In the meantime, the same Bible that tells us that hard work is required of us if we expect to receive and enjoy the rewards of life (Proverbs 14:23, Proverbs 12:24) also tells us that those who do not do so should expect little reward for their lack of due diligence (2 Timothy 2:5, 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
And for these reasons, I will always be encouraging my grandsons to learn and to earn. That is to say, to learn early these essential lessons, and then to get busy earning their way in this world!