When I was a kid, I used to get so excited when it was the week before school started. I would ride my Schwinn 3-speed down to Thrifty’s to figure out the exact school supplies I wanted. Then, when my mom would finally take me to buy them, I knew exactly which notebooks, Pee Chee folders and pencils I wanted her to get for me.
I loved school, and there is no doubt in my mind that I ended up working in education because of that. I liked everything about it—it was interesting and organized and structured, and I did well at it, which was a huge draw. I was not a particularly athletic kid, so school was a place I could shine. And, since I came from a somewhat chaotic home life, I adored being in charge of my desk and all the items in it that I could stack and line up in an orderly fashion.
Everyone should have the opportunity to acquire knowledge and to be supported on their road to that acquisition.
But, as corny as it sounds, the thing I liked best was learning new stuff. I remember clearly the week in first grade when I learned to read. When I made my way through a sentence like, "See Jane run," my teacher Mrs. Phillips said, “Now your whole life is going to be different.” I had no idea what that meant at the time, of course, but it sounded fun and exciting. More than 60 years later, I get it. What knowing how to read meant was that I could discover new places, figure out how to solve problems, learn about other people, and even figure out a whole lot more about myself. The possibilities, it turned out, were endless. My ability to read—and think, and reason, and make decisions—has given me a kind of power I never fully understood until I was older.
And no matter how old I get, when late August rolls around, I start to get back-to-school fever. This year it is even more fun because I’m working at a college again. For me, January 1 has nothing on the first day of school. It’s a true time for resolutions. It’s a chance to start over, to think about what I want to focus on this year—to be as present in the world as possible. I don’t put on a party hat and start blowing noisemakers, but I make goals, think about taking better care of myself, and imagine what new things I want to learn this year—even though I’m no longer a student myself. In my short-lived retirement, the late August days felt weird and sad because there was no way to honor this time.
Now that I’m back, I’m thinking about the power of education and the access it gives us to the world. It also makes me think about how much better a job we can do to extend that opportunity to so many more people. I was lucky enough to attend well-supported public schools in my middle-class neighborhood. After that, I went to a nearby community college and our local state university. The teachers were welcoming and encouraging. Those of us who grew up with these privileges didn’t even know how fortunate we were, nor how many others didn’t get the same chances to learn and discover and grow in a supportive environment.
This notion has strengthened my feelings about this new school year. I’m lucky to be working on programs that will make it easier for students to learn and to feel welcomed. Everyone should have the opportunity to acquire knowledge and to be supported on their road to that acquisition. I am thinking so much about Mrs. Phillips’ comment as we get ready for school to begin in a week. Of course she was so right about how different our lives become when we can learn. So I’m thrilled to get to help some other people in that same quest, and to share the wonder of this new year.