Commentary: A college life not wasted on my young
October 27, 2013 1:39 AM
by BETSY HART

My No. 2 child and oldest daughter, a high school senior, is hard at work choosing a university for next year — and hoping the right one chooses her back. As we talk about the various options and how to make her decision, she will occasionally find me waxing nostalgic and that’s when she launches into a near perfect imitation of — me.

“Oh, honey, my greatest regret is that I had all this time to soak up knowledge at a wonderful university and I didn’t take advantage of it, I didn’t realize it was my job to just learn, I hope you will do things differently.” By this point she’s usually looked at me to see if I’ve caught on to her mimicry. Her younger sisters are rolling their eyes because they know their time hearing the same thing is coming. And on it goes.

Yes, I’ve caught on. Do other parents also give this speech to their children under the heading, “Youth is Wasted on the Young”?

The only other speech my children know as well starts with, “I’m not paying for graduate school ...” There I want the market to be their guide. If it will make a dramatic difference in lifetime earnings or options, and it might, then they can find a way to pay for it themselves.

Ah, but undergraduate degrees are so different.

What I want for my children is the chance to really learn, and that I am willing to pay for. I had that chance. I didn’t take it.

Don’t get me wrong. I graduated from the University of Illinois and I couldn’t have loved it more than I did. My parents had to almost physically drag me out of there after graduation.

The “problem” was I had such a great time I didn’t have a whole lot of room for, oh, classes. I was involved in campus political movements, sorority life, all that jazz. So much so, that I once showed up for a history final in a room with a bunch of kids pulling out slide rules. Turns out it had been so long since I’d been to class I didn’t know about the venue change for that particular final exam.

I am not proud of that. You see, I was an idiot.

Today, I will read a great book and have questions, or wonder about something having to do with science, or be curious about a historical event, or note an interesting pattern in the night sky I can’t explain, or wonder about the geography of a place — and I want to smack myself upside the head all over again.

I had four years where it was my one and only job to soak up knowledge, ask questions of really learned people, find answers, be exposed to things I might never otherwise be, learn about the great works of literature and art, delve into science or music or anything I wanted to, be taught by experts in and outside my humanities major. Be exposed to how civilization itself was built. It was all there.

But no, I was busy with sorority life and Campus Republicans. Don’t even remind me that there are people who do it all, all at the same time. I know. I wasn’t one of them.

It’s not that I can’t find the answers to these big questions now, or that treating college differently then would have made my life since demonstrably different or better. I don’t know that. But, I think it might have made me a little different and maybe a little better.

Yes, a couple of times I had courses that pulled me in in spite of myself. A class on logic and a survey course on physics are two that really stand out. And in the end, I did manage to graduate on time. Oh, but what I missed along the way.

So yes, my children are getting “the speech.” And they will continue to. That’s because I at least want my youth to maybe, just maybe, not be wasted on my young.

Reach Betsy Hart at www.betsysblog.com.

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