This past weekend I had the opportunity to return to College Station and watch a Texas A&M football game for the first time since I graduated 13 years ago. I have to thank my wife for this, as if it had been left up to me, I would have spent the weekend at home trying to catch up on the three months of chores that I have neglected during the football season. It was important to her that we take our boys up there and expose them to the Aggie culture, and I’m thankful that she is so persuasive. While I know the experience was fun for the boys as well as my wife, for me, going back to College Station provided me with a different experience. While I enjoyed the trip, and seeing all of the changes that have occurred since I had last been to Aggieland, I was provided the opportunity to take a step back from the day to day activities that tend to dominate my thoughts and wander down memory lane for a while, and all that reminiscing took me down a path that I hadn’t anticipated.
In the interest of time, and the shorter stride of my young boys, I dropped my family off near Kyle Field where they could watch the Corp of Cadets line up and march into the stadium while I drove across campus to find a parking spot near the Bonfire Memorial. That meant that I would have to walk from one corner of the campus to the other to reach Kyle field, but I was looking forward to walking through some of the same places that I had as a student what seems like a lifetime ago. I was prepared for the long trek, but not for the emotions that ran through me as I walked by buildings where I had received my education. For some reason, I kept having to fight back tears as the memories washed over me. I kept thinking, “What the heck is wrong with me?” until I finally realized the emotion that was causing such a strong reaction, pride.
It started when I walked past the Petroleum building and saw the Roughneck statue with his chain around a drilling pipe, seeing this made me think of my father, and the stories he used to tell me about working in the oilfield when I was young.
I began to think about both of my parents, and how they raised me. Neither one of them had gone to college, they had married young (probably due to the fact that I was on the way), and they had both worked very hard to provide for my brother, sister and me. Growing up, we were never hungry, we had clothes that fit, we had supplies for school, and we always had a place to live, but we didn’t always have all the things that we wanted. When I look back on my childhood, I don’t feel like I ever had to do without, even though I didn’t necessarily have the things that would have helped me “fit in.”
When I think about how we grew up, what always stands out for me is the work ethic that my parents taught us. If something needed to be done around the house, a fence needed to be built, concrete poured, replacing shingles on the house, we always did the work ourselves. I remember my dad waking my brother and me up early on Saturday and Sunday mornings, loading into the pickup and going to collect scrap iron to haul to the scrap yard for extra money.
The summer after I turned 13, my dad arranged for me to work at the Exxon station fixing flats, pumping gas and cleaning up, and I think I made two dollars an hour (cash, under the table). I spent one summer hauling hay with a guy I went to high school with, and earned ten cents a bale, which came out to pretty good money considering we’d haul around 1,000 bales a day. When I was finally old enough to work legally, I started working at the gravel mine where my dad was a mechanic. I wasn’t old enough to drive any of the equipment, you had to be 18, but I did spend a lot of time with a weed trimmer strapped to my back, and I occasionally got to run the water truck.
At the time, I was a little jealous of my friends who got to spend their summers and weekends hanging out and goofing off, but I did like it when I would get my paycheck on Friday. I learned early on the value of hard work and the value of money, and the pride that goes along with earning.
I remember one purchase in particular that I was proud of. I was working at the Exxon station, and there was a new type of media that you could get your music on called compact discs. Everyone I knew had a portable CD player, and I was still jamming to tapes in my old Walkman. That summer I saved my money for several weeks and bought a portable Sony Discman, Stone Temple Pilots’ Core album and Nirvana’s Nevermind.
I treated that Discman like a Faberge egg, and it was packed in my boxes when I moved into my college dorm six years later. I took care of it because I’d had to work so hard to get it. It was symbolic of the beginning of my independence.
As I walked through the heart of the A&M campus, I thought about all of this, as well as my time spent attending A&M, and I realized that my emotions were an effect of the tremendous pride I felt at having earned a degree from a good school, and having done it with much less assistance than many of my peers. As I said, neither one of my parents had attended a university, and when it came time to apply for school, and financial aid, it wasn’t like I could run to my parents and have them walk me through the process. I knew I wanted to attend a traditional college, partly due to my father’s constant question of, “Do you want to do this the rest of your life?” as we worked in the gravel mine together, and partly because I knew I wanted to teach, and in order to do that I would need a degree.
To make a long story short, I filled out my college applications and financial aid forms, and I was accepted to Southwest Texas State University. My parents helped me pack my things, and moved to San Marcos, registered for my classes, and after a year transferred to Texas A&M where I completed my education.
Reflecting on the process of what it took to earn my degree made me think about my students, and my own children. I know that many of the students that I teach will end up attending college, and most of those that do will get a lot of help along the way with the process of applying and getting registered for classes, many of my peers had that same support.
I’m sure that when the time comes, my wife and I will do the same thing for our kids if that’s the path they choose to pursue. But it makes me wonder if all of the assistance is beneficial, or does it cripple our children in a way?
If things come to us too easy, can we really appreciate what we have? For me, the experience of figuring out what I had to do to get into college was eye opening and that success was a powerful force in my adult life. Whether it was buying my first house, applying for my first job, selecting insurance or how I would build my retirement, I felt confident that I could figure out how it was done without someone holding my hand.
I’ll be honest, I worry about the current generation of young men and women that are preparing to leave the safety and support of home and enter into the “real world.” I’ve recently read several articles talking about the state of our children in a world where they are not allowed to find their own way, or to fail in their endeavors.
Anyone in education can tell you, it seems like it takes more effort to fail than it does to pass. The liability of failing students rarely gets placed on the students themselves, but on any number of different reasons other than they just wouldn’t put in the work needed to get the job done.
Our children are growing up in a world of instant gratification, a world where you can receive benefits without work, a world where should they fail, it’s not their fault. It makes me wonder what will happen when these young folks do encounter adversity, when they do fail, will they be able to bounce back?
I recently read that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of college students that are seeking treatment for anxiety and depression due to the tremendous amount of stress they are experiencing upon entering college. In the same article, it states that an increasing number of parents are contacting college professors demanding to know why their child received a poor grade in the professor’s class. This blows my mind, and it speaks volumes about how we are crippling our children by doing too much for them.
I’m not trying to say that someone shouldn’t help their son or daughter, but I do think that there is a difference between helping them and doing it for them. I know that with my own children, my wife and I will steer them in the right direction when it comes to selecting a school, and applying for college, but they’re going to have to do the grunt work. I won’t be writing his college essay for him just so he can go to the college he wants; if he wants to go to that school, let him earn it. If that means he spends two years at community college, or doesn’t get accepted by the school of his choice, that’s an experience that he needs to have. When it comes to working while going to school, he better have a job if he wants any help from his parents.
Failure is a great teacher, no other experience will more clearly highlight deficiencies that need attention.
I believe that as a society, we have forgotten what a great teacher failure is. As parents, we are so concerned with our children’s success, that we are tempted to reduce or eliminate their opportunities to fail in any aspect of their life. I can understand the temptation, the idea of any of my children feeling the pain that comes with failure is a pain that I share with them, it’s unpleasant, but it’s not unbearable.
Failure is a great teacher, no other experience will more clearly highlight deficiencies that need attention. Arguably the best lesson that failure teaches is that the world doesn’t end when you don’t get something that you are working for. It teaches resilience, and most of all, fighting through failure to achieve a goal teaches us to truly appreciate what we’ve earned, and to be grateful for all the work we put in to get there.
In this incredible journey that I have been on I’ve been blessed and fortunate to have made some great decisions, and I’ve benefitted from great opportunities, but I’ve made a lot of bad decisions and failed to achieve goals that I had set along the way as well. I have tried to make the most of the opportunities that I’ve been given, and I’ve always tried to learn from my mistakes. My goals have changed, as they will when life gets in the way of your plans, and when the things that were once important to you become less so with experience.
I know that I’m grateful for all that my parents have done for me, which I know was as much as they possibly could; because of them I can provide for my family better than they could when they were my age.
I know that I want my children to be better off than I am now when they get the opportunity to start their own families, as most parents do. More importantly, I want my children to be able to look back on their childhood and their education and appreciate the work that it took for them to reach their goals.
I want them to understand the value of hard work, and the value of earning what they have. I want to feel comfort in the thought that, no matter what obstacles life puts in front of them, they will be able to overcome and thrive. One day, when they visit their alma-matter, I want them to have to fight back tears from the pride they feel of having earned the life that they are blessed to enjoy.