Burton on the Bay
Vol. 9, No. 23
June 7-13, 2001
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School’s Out\

It's Time to Pay Attention
To read, rite and 'cipher
may prove you ain't no fool -
but life's greatest lessons
Are not all learned in school,
'cause Nature's simple secrets
can hide in quiet pools.


It's that time of the year. Spring is winding down, so is school. And as classrooms close up shop, some will graduate and others will return to student life in late summer.

Some grads will move on to the next step in education; others will join the work force or perhaps the military. Life brings changes, and such as these are the first steps in many changes to come. Destiny is a mystery.

Congratulations to the graduates. Savor the occasion: It's something to be remembered. This writer was never fortunate enough to participate in a full graduation program, and I miss the memories.

Missed Memories

During the Great Depression in New England came graduation from grammar school. But Sidney Sherman and I were so poor at singing that we were assigned to observe the program from the choir box at the Congregational Church as the rest of the class of about 15 participated in a musical program featuring the works of Stephen Collins Foster.

The only time we were to join the others came when our name was called to receive our diplomas. We didn't mind too much because we didn't like singing, anyway, and the next day the whole class was to take off in a school bus for New York City and the World's Fair.

High school graduation was also elusive. I departed the classroom in February of my senior year to join the Navy SeaBees, and when June rolled around I was in a military hospital in Springfield, Mass., about 125 miles to the south. As was the practice during World War II, those who joined up during their senior year were automatically granted diplomas.

I had hopes to make the ceremony in my dress blues, but my doctor was from New York City, where they obviously celebrated more on graduation night, because he nixed my pleas. He said there was too much drinking and carousing at graduation time. It was his job to get me cured and back with my outfit and on the Pacific.

It was a lonely vigil that night in Springfield. I visualized my 16 classmates walking down the aisle to get their diplomas, and there would be Aunt MiMi taking the same route to accept my diploma from Arlington High School. I missed being there, and I still do. My classmates scattered across the country, many of us not to meet again until the 50th anniversary of the occasion.

Fourteen of the 17 graduates made the 50th reunion. Two had passed away. One had dropped from sight, though she has since reappeared. This summer she will be back in Vermont, and many of us will gather for dinner on the 55th anniversary.

But all the alumni reunions in the world can never compensate for missing the special night, especially when a small and close-knit class is involved. It's like family.

Nor was graduation from college to be for this writer. In the midst of my third semester at Goddard College, I dropped out of class to assume Veterans Administration on-the-job training in news broadcasting for a new radio station in Montpelier. My formal schooling was over.

About the same time my classmates were receiving their diplomas, I was finishing my training and about to be a full-fledged radio news editor. I didn't get a diploma. The only thing I got was a hefty increase in income tax payments, the shock of my young life.

College of Hard Knocks

Under a VA program for disabled vets, an on-the-job trainee was paid a full journeyman's salary from the beginning, with the employer paying a small amount and the VA the remainder. Naturally, the government contribution wasn't taxable. But the day the training was completed, the full salary was.

I won't forget the first paycheck from WSKI: $6 and some change was taken out for federal income tax. The honeymoon was over. Like my classmates graduating at Goddard, I was in a world where you paid your way. Henceforth, lessons would come from the College of Hard Knocks - and with no diplomas.

Life's Lessons

So for what it's worth, this old man - who never participated in a graduation ceremony other than in a unique role decades after formal school was history - has some advice for graduates. Enjoy, but keep on learning whether you go on to another school or join the work force.

Incidentally, my role in a graduation ceremony came in the '70s, when graduating students of Sunset Elementary School in Pasadena voted me as their choice for commencement speaker. The principal must have been bewildered but acceded to their request - and at last I played center stage at a graduation.

But as symbolically important as graduation is, it's really insignificant in the big game plan. It's just a certificate that announces to the world that one has successfully completed a long list of required formal courses. It tells little about the individual with the sheepskin.

And, really, it tells little about the school, its teachers, classes or what was taught and what was learned. All it informs the world is that the recipient sufficiently met the requirements of the county and state in a predetermined bunch of formal classes. Nothing more.

I prefer to look at education as did the anonymous writer quoted at the beginning of this column: Life's greatest lessons are not all learned in school - at least in formal classes.

The algebra, geometry, Latin and chemistry might teach how to work out problems; the origin of words might help build a better vocabulary and such. I'm not knocking their role in the curriculum, but methinks there are other meaningful and important things in life that we have to learn for ourselves. And those things aren't in the curriculum - unless the teacher is unique.

I started school at Cherry Valley, a one-room school with four grades. I learned more by listening when Miss Griffin, the teacher, was instructing higher grades and I was supposed to be studying. Perhaps one had to have attended a one-room school to understand this.

I learned one of life's most invaluable lessons when on Arbor Day, Miss Griffin took the whole classroom of students outside to plant an oak sapling. Her story about Arbor Day and trees inspired me, kindling a life-long appreciation of trees and nature worth more in my life in later years than all the French, Latin, chemistry and algebra combined.

In the eighth grade, at a bigger school in the village, Mr. Oleson, during recess one winter when it was too cold to go outside, read us Edgar Allen Poe's "The Gold Bug," and within me hatched an avid interest in reading. In the formality of a classroom, I doubt that spark would ever have been ignited.

Education is a curious thing. One always learns as life progresses, but what really separates those successful from those who fall short is learning how to think. I agree with an old Yankee saying: You can put a boy in school to learn, but only a gifted teacher can learn him to think.

Congratulations to the graduates.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly