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Guest column

Diplomas open life's doors

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 4, 2003

When I was growing up in Chicago, there was a clothing company called Robert Hall that had a jingle I still remember today. It went:

School bells ring and children sing.

It's back to Robert Hall again.

Mother knows for better clothes,

It's back to Robert Hall again.

I think about that jingle each fall when schools begin across Florida and the rest of the country. It's appropriate now, too, as most children prepare for spring vacation and replenish supplies for the last leg of the school year and some wrestle with the rigors of the FCAT.

In our house we have a running joke that around September, I should be getting a new pencil box and other school supplies I will need to get ready to go back to school.

This small family joke is motivated by the fact that not only did I spend 12 years in public schools, but I also went on to get two colleges degrees, completely on my own financially. Then I spent my entire professional life as an administrator and sometime teacher at various universities around the country.

So I deeply believe in education. The major changes in my life came from four sources: serving in the military, getting married, having children and getting my education.

For a kid from a family of seven with very few resources, I can truly say that my degrees are as precious as gold to me.

That is why I want now to give encouragement to all of those people struggling for their high school or college degrees. I want to assure everyone who is faltering and wondering if all of the work and sacrifice necessary to get an education is worth it. I can assure you it is. Nothing opened my world as much as the years I struggled to get my college degrees. It opened the doors not only to a career in higher education but also to a wider world in which I could more fully understand how the world works and why people do the things they do.

In fact, it made me truly revere education. Throughout my career, many people thought I was "good enough" to work for more dollars in private industry. In addition to expressing a put-down of higher education, the people who thought they were giving me a compliment missed the point. I very much wanted to be on a college campus because I thought it was payback for all of the benefits I received from my bachelor's and master's degrees.

I wanted to see the students return to campus each fall and feel that I was doing my part in bringing them success and direction in life. I wanted to help the universities at which I worked to get the word out that universities are the precious gems of society and are worthy of everyone's admiration for the way the institutions bring major change for the better to everyone's life.

So for all of those working late into the night to finish their degrees who may need a pep talk, here is some short verse to hang near your computer. I hope it will inspire you:

To daytime toilers and midnight oilers,

it's worth it.

To baby boom grayers and gen-X players,

it's worth it.

Oh, those who want to quit and those sick of it,

it's worth it.

For those who believe in the myth of the educated fool and think that getting formal education is not as good as being educated by life, I would say you are not living in the real world. In addition to greatly broadening your horizons and options in life, that degree is your passport to better jobs and a better life. Employers still want some paper to prove you have been educated, no matter how much you protest that you have been educated by life experiences.

Like it or not, we are a paper-oriented society, and there are few papers more precious than the ones that have the word "graduate" on them.

So, if you are dead tired today and you have to work late into the night to complete that last class assignment, I want to urge you to soldier on. I have been there and done that. And let me assure you this is one paper chase you will hold close to your heart and be proud of for the rest of your life.

-- Douglas Spangler, a former university administrator, lives in Palm Harbor. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

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