Perhaps the coming of a new year has made me thoughtful. Perhaps it was attending UW-Green Bay’s commencement ceremony in December. Perhaps it was a phone conversation earlier in the week during which I was able to reassure an applicant that a documented learning disability is not a cause for embarrassment.
Whatever the reason, I’ve been thinking about what it means to make one’s life in the realm of education. I’ve been thinking about having a “higher calling” that involves changing lives, rather than making money for corporate executives. And in thinking about it, I’ve come to a renewed apprciation for the privilege of working in higher education.
Commencement. December 19. As I sat in the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts, surrounded by beaming family members, graduates, and university personnel decked out in academic regalia, I found myself truly moved by what was happening. At UW-Green Bay, well over half of our students are first-generation (that is, neither parent has earned a college degree). What an amazing thing to be part of that kind of life change! These students, decked out in those silly-looking mortarboards, will probably experience dramatically different lives than their parents…because of their college degree. For many of these students, the pride of college graduation is as acute for the parents and family members as it is for the student. These parents have dreamed of this moment, just as their sons and daughters have. And I got to be a part of it. It doesn’t matter that those people don’t know my name or know what I do. The fact that I’m part of this organization is enough. That is so much more satisfying than feeding a corporate bottom line.
If you are reading this and work in the field of education, take a moment now and then to reflect on your own “higher calling.” Clearly, careers in education can be fraught with frustration, politics, budget problems, and challenges too numerous to list. However, though we may never get rich in our chosen careers, each of us who has the privilege of changing lives through education would do well to remember that changing a life is priceless.