Thankful for My Education

Last weekend, I hopped aboard a special Amtrak train headed to East Lansing, Michigan for an alumni weekend at MSU. Joining me was Kathy Benn, my old college buddy (pictured above). As the train pulled away from Chicago, she and I swapped stories about what life had taught us. It was a warm autumn weekend. We made ourselves hoarse rooting for the Spartans. After the game, we strolled the campus, triggering a flood of fond memories. The visit, more than anything, made me profoundly grateful for my education.

I stubbornly cling to the idea that a quality education still matters in America—even though the American Dream is up for revision. And I’m especially optimistic that the reforms begun with STEM will have another four more years to manifest.

This fall, I was on a panel to discuss teacher recruitment strategies using social media. The event was hosted by 100kin10, an organization focused on recruiting teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The room was filled with educators eager to attract a new generation of math and science teachers. The nature of their questions clued me into the depth of their marketing challenge: brutal competition. People good at math and science are on every employer’s wish list. To win the war for talent, educational institutions will have to think more like marketers. Hopefully, that’ll make them better at expressing the value proposition of education in a digital age. 

Panelists from left to right: me; Dan Swartz from UpShot Media; Shannon Downey from Pivotal; Tim Knowles–moderato,  from the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute.

Faith in institutions, including schools and universities, has eroded. But as I walked the MSU campus and peered down the hallway of my former dormitory, I remembered what it  was like to live there. Long nights writing papers on my Smith Corona typewriter—a gift from my parents. I learned to meet multiple deadlines and find the energy to drag myself to pre-dawn rowing practices.

It is said that we are shaped by what life demands of us. Getting a good education, if you’re serious about it, is a demanding business.

As Thanksgiving nears, I feel newly thankful for my schooling. No, it wasn’t an Ivy. It was a Big Ten school in my home state. Frankly, it’s what I could afford on my savings from summer jobs. College gave me important work habits. It forced me to marry creativity with rigor. And it taught me how to live happily among lots of different people. In short, it changed my life.

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving.