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CRATER LAKE LODGE, CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK

Finding a rental car with enough trunk room for four people—for a month—was no easy task. Finally, Budget came through with a Lincoln Town Car (the only full-size auto with enough trunk room).

In mid-June, Connie and I picked up Bob and Lucy Earp at the Portland Airport Hampton Inn. We collectively gulped as we looked at all their luggage (from Tennessee) and ours (from Colorado). How in the world would we ever get all that in? We did—but it wasn’t easy.

Finally, with Bob in front with me and Lucy in back with Connie, we looked at each other: would our friendship stand a month together in the same car? We bowed our heads and prayed that God would grant us His protection and blessing. Out of our battery of resource books, we read out loud the lead quotation in Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns’ National Park opus maximus:

One learns that the world, though made, is yet being made.
That this is still the morning of creation. That mountains, long conceived, are now being born, brought to light by the glaciers, channels traced for rivers, basins hollowed for lakes.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. . . . The whole wilderness in unity and interrelation is alive and familiar… the very stones seem talkative, sympathetic, brotherly. . .

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in
and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.

This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest . . . in our
magnificent National Parks—Nature’s sublime onderlands, the admiration and joy of the world.

—John Muir

With that inspirational preamble, we drove off. I-5 South was predictably boring; but things got more interesting after we veered off onto Highway 58 at Eugene. Keeping us company for some time was one of Zane Grey’s most beloved fishing rivers, the North Umpqua. It was late afternoon before we hit the snowline. By the time we nosed the car into the Crater Lake Lodge parking lot, it was clear we wouldn’t be able to drive around the crater—too much snow!

By now, the lodge was an old friend: Connie and I first came here in 1962; our son Greg did too, but didn’t see much, since he was still in the hopper. The last time we visited it there was so much snow we had to tunnel our way through. But this year had been a light winter.

It is America’s deepest lake (almost 2,000 feet deep), and one of the ten deepest in the world; its beginning rocked the West: 7,700 years ago, towering Mount Mazama erupted with 100 times the magnitude of Mt. St. Helens in 1980, blowing ash and pumice over what is today eight western states and three Canadian provinces. The resulting caldron (six miles across), over millennia, gradually began to fill with water from rain and snowmelt—no streams feed into it or drain it. Snow is heavy, averaging 44 feet a year, thus its summers are short. It has been documented as the clearest water in the world, with perhaps as deep a blue as exists on the planet.

THE LODGE OREGONIANS WOULDN’T LET DIE

Most of our national parks were blessed by single-minded visionaries obsessed with saving them for posterity; this proved true for Crater lake as well: in 1870, a fifteen-year-old Kansas boy, William Gladstone Steel, idly thumbing through newspaper sheets that had been used to wrap his lunch, chanced to see an article about a mysterious “sunken lake” in Oregon. Not only did he vow to see it some day, he kept his vow. Fifteen years later, in 1885, the now thirty-year-old man stood on the lake’s rim—awestruck. Right then and there, he made another vow; to spend the rest of his life on its behalf. No small thanks to him, in 1902, it became the nation’s sixth national park. Steel became park superintendent.

But Steel yearned for more than just national park status, he wanted several lodges of the stature of El Tovar, Ahwahnee, and Old Faithful to grace it. But that task proved to be a veritable labor of Sisyphus for a number of reasons, chiefly his failure to find wealthy backers and the short summer seasons. Finally, concluding that he’d just have to make do with what he had (the support of Portland entrepreneur Alfred L. Parkhurst, architect R. H. Hockenberry, and builder Frank Keyes), plans to construct a lodge of some 77 rooms were set in motion.

Sadly, however, so underfunded was the project that they were forced to cut corners—but it was either that, or nothing. One of those cost-cutting decisions resulted in their foregoing strong roof trusses. Predictably, the roof collapsed during the blizzards of 1913-14. But the lodge bravely opened its doors anyway, in its unfinished state, in 1915.

And the people came. The late teens and Roaring Twenties spawned an explosion of automobile travel, and Crater Lake Lodge became a popular destination—at least when snow melted early enough. But always it was a battle to keep it open. Ownership changed hands again and again. In 1959, plans were made for its razing—but somehow it survived until 1984 when the National Park Service recommended that it be demolished, and a new one constructed away from the rim. And they had reasons: “The truth was that the old lodge was a dump. The roof sagged, the bathrooms were spartan, light fixtures dangled from the ceiling, and the wind whipped through the walls”. . . . As time passed, “it would kind of move and creak and groan with the snow in the winter . . . so heavy that the roof was kind of flattening out the building and the walls were bowing.” (Barnes, 90).

But then the people of Oregon stepped in to save the beloved old derelict. In 1987, the Oregon legislature passed a resolution to save it. A state-wide campaign known as “Saving Crater Lake Lodge” was organized. But none of it arrested the deterioration. Finally, in 1989, with the central roof threatening to collapse, the lodge was ordered to close.

Then began a six-year effort to save it. It soon became evident that if it were to survive, it must be dismantled and rebuilt from the foundation up. In the ensuing process it was discovered that it didn’t even have a foundation; nor was there any solid infrastructure. $15,000,000 was spent in painstaking efforts to not only restore the lodge, but, more importantly, restore it to what it never had been: a lodge anchored by a solid foundation and a steel-beamed infrastructure. The great hall was rebuilt and the kitchen gutted, then replaced. Windows overlooking the lake were positioned so they would showcase the reason why people came here, and everything radiated out from the great hall and the fireplaces.

On May 20, 1995, Crater lake Lodge—against all odds—reopened. Barnes concluded her moving story with these words: “The essence of Crater lake Lodge lies in its memories. While the historic structure no longer bears the ragged signs of aging, the heart of the lodge remains the same. It is still a wonder of man perched on the edge of a wonder of nature.” (Barnes, 93).

* * * * *

We checked in. Our fourth floor dormer room was small, as are almost all old hotel rooms. Those who thronged early lodges spent little time in their rooms, but much time exploring the parks; in the evenings, they reveled in each other’s company in the great halls, listened to music, played board games, and dreamed by the great fireplaces.

At Crater Lake Lodge, time stood still. Here we met not only Oregonians but people from all over the nation and from around the world. Each had come to savor a long-loved artifact of a bygone world that had miraculously survived until the Year of our Lord 2010. Like us, they’d come here to escape a cacophonous modern world so devoid of serenity and peace.

As we ate our dinner by the window, we gazed out, entranced, at the breathtaking late afternoon diorama of changing colors. No one was in a hurry to leave the table. Afterwards, we walked outside again, then came back and played a board game by one of the fireplaces. Later, we crawled into our bed (small compared to our usual standards) and snuggled—we had to! During the night, the 95-year-old building talked to me. And I couldn’t help but wonder who else had slept in this same little room. What were their thoughts? One of my last thoughts had to do with gratitude: I’m so grateful this place is still here!

Next week, it’s on to Oregon Caves Chateau.

SOURCES:

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National parks, Vol. 2 (Portland, Oregon: Graphic Arts Books, 2008). These two books are must-reads for all who treasure our parks.
Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2009).
White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2009).

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NATIONAL PARK LODGES SERIES #1

A KEN BURNS PILGRIMAGE
VISITING THE NORTHWEST NATIONAL PARK LODGES 

Bob & Lucy Earp, Joe & Connie Wheeler

It all began with our dear friends, Bob and Lucy Earp of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  They called us and asked us about our reactions to the recently-aired Ken Burns PBS series of programs on our national parks.  We told them, “They were great!  Made us want to visit all of them.” 

As it turned out, they’d responded the same way.  “Well, how would you like to do just that?  We could start by visiting the Northwest lodges next year, right after the Zane Grey’s West Society convention in Gold Beach, Oregon.” 

It took a year to make all our bookings and clear our schedules so that we could dedicate a month of our lives to such a venture.  Our primary concern—other than the cost, of course—had to do with whether or not our friendship could survive such close quarters 24/7 for that long.  In the end, given that it had already survived several cruises together, we decided to risk it. 

Interestingly enough, at our recent 28th Zane Grey’s West Society convention, I told attendees about our pilgrimage and asked them, “how many of you watched the Ken Burns National Park series?”  Almost every hand went up!  Clearly, there is renewed interest in our national parks all across the country.  Since so many of our Society members appeared to be green with envy, we concluded that many of you who tune in to “Wednesdays with Dr. Joe” each week might be equally interested in vicariously enjoying the journey with us; then later, possibly visit these sights yourselves.  Hence the birth of this series of blogs. 

PREPARATION FOR THE JOURNEY  

Since all four of us were interested in learning as much as we could about the places we visited, we began putting together a library of reference material which we could share on the trip.  This way, we’d know what to look for when we arrived at each location. 

Following are items we considered essential: 

  • AAA maps of each state we’d visit.
  • AAA books dealing with each state.
  • Most important of all: Christine Barnes’ splendid two-volume books for the PBS Series, Great Lodges of the West, aired in conjunction with Ken Burns PBS park series) (Bend, Oregon: W. W. West, Inc., 2002, 2008).  These books are the result of a prodigious amount of research and are lavishly illustrated with beautiful photographs.  You’ll want to pick up a set for yourselves whether or not you visit these lodges yourself; however, I’ll be surprised if they don’t launch your own personal journeys of discovery.  They will be our primary sources for this blog series.
  • Second in significance to Barnes, is David L. and Kay W. Scott’s The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).  This book’s main value has to do with smaller lodges not included in Barnes’ books.
  • The bible for studying into our national parks has to be Dayton Duncan’ and Ken Burns’ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2009).  It is already in its second printing.  Much of the PBS text is incorporated into the book.

 

  • Also new is Mel White’s Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2009).
    There are a number of scenic drives books out, but the one we took along was The Most Scenic Drives in America (Pleasantville, NY: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1997).  Together with the AAA books, it makes road trips a lot more informative as it highlights the key sites to take in while in each area.
  • Since three of the lodges we visited (Old Faithful Inn, Lake Quinault Lodge, and Lake Hotel at Yellowstone) were designed by the now legendary park architect (indeed, one of the fathers of “parkitecture”), Robert C. Reamer, we purchased Ruth Quinn’s insightful Weaver of Dreams: The Life and Architecture of Robert C. Reamer (Bozeman, Montana: Artcraft Publishers, 2004).

Besides these, there are many other helpful books, especially the beautiful national park books put out by various publishers (such as K.C. Publications, Sierra Press, etc.). 

 

 

SPECIAL NOTE 

Under national parks, we also include national forests, national monuments, national recreation areas, etc. 

Aug.   4 A Ken Burns Pilgrimage Visiting the Northwest National Park Lodges 

Aug. 11 Crater Lake Lodge (Crater Lake National Park) 

Aug. 18 Oregon Caves Chateau (Oregon Caves National Monument) 

Aug.  25 Timberline Lodge (Mount Hood National Wilderness) 

Sept.   1 Paradise Inn (Mount Rainier National Park) 

Sept.    8 Stehekin Landing Resort (North Cascades National Park) 

Sept.  15 Enzian Inn (not a historic hotel, situated in Washington State’s faux Bavarian village, Leavenworth) 

Sept.  22 Lake Quinault Lodge (Olympic National Park) 

Sept.  29 Crescent Lake Lodge (Olympic National Park) 

Oct.     6 The Cascade Loop 

Oct.   13 Grand Coulee Dam and Lake Roosevelt 

Oct.   20 Old Faithful Inn (Yellowstone National Park) 

Oct.   27 Lake Yellowstone Hotel (Yellowstone National Park) 

Nov.     3  Jackson Lake Hotel (Grand Teton National Park) 

Nov.   10 Glacier Park Lodge (Glacier National Park) 

Nov.  17 Many Glacier Hotel (Glacier National Park) 

Nov.  24 Lake McDonald Lodge (Glacier National Park) 

Dec.    1 Prince of Wales Hotel (Glacier/Waterton Lakes National Park) 

Dec.    8 Young People—and the Old—Who Work in National Park Lodges and the Recession 

Dec.  15 Last Thoughts – Memories – Our Top 10 Lists 

*   See you next week; would be honored to have you journey along with us.

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PLAGIARISM—WHY AMERICANS CANNOT NOT CHEAT

Colorado GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis is but the latest reminder that, in the Internet Age, one can run but cannot hide from one’s words: Plagiarism is getting increasingly difficult to hide—as McInnis has discovered to his chagrin. Former University of Colorado regent Jim Martin, in his “Dishonesty in the Internet Age” (The Denver Post, July 15, 2010), notes that “A story several years ago on NPR’s ‘All Things Considered’ profiled a University of Virginia professor’s new innovation to catch Internet cheaters—a search engine that can locate patterns of phrasing and match them to other works. The device has already turned up a number of cheaters not only in academia, but also in other areas of our lives.”

As a long-time English and writing professor I can testify that it is incredibly easy to spot cheating in term papers, for once I get a feel for an individual’s style of writing (in controlled writing assignments in classrooms), any significant stylistic deviance from the norm jumps out at me. The difficulty heretofore has been to track down the source the student copied from. No longer: my teaching colleagues tell me that it’s amazing how quickly they can track down an original source thanks to Google et al.

Which brings us to the core issue: Why do we cheat?

Increasingly, we cheat because we cannot not cheat. Permit me to explain why. Before I wrote my book, Remote Controlled (Review and Herald Publishing, 1993), I first researched the subject of the impact of television on the American people for over 30 years. One of the key resulting epiphanies of that research was this: the ability to think, write, and create is not a given; it is extremely difficult to achieve because it can only come into being by having an inquiring mind; a sense of wonder; by questions that never stop; by voracious reading in books, magazines, and newspapers; by daily journaling. Where writing is concerned, we are all works in progress—we never arrive, because knowledge is increasing by the nanosecond. That’s why the Chinese have a proverb: “If you haven’t read in three days, you aren’t worth listening to.” Staying in tune with the Zeitgeist has never been more difficult than it is today.

Nor is it easy to be a researcher (the job Scott McInnis was paid $300,000 for). I tell my students, “It’s not easy to write a good term paper. Unless you so immerse yourself into reading about your chosen subject, and writing notes from all those sources, you’ll never experience that mysterious breakthrough marathon runners talk about: when you literally break through a mental or physical barrier into a new dimension—you’ll know you’re there when you start dreaming about it. When that happens, you can write your paper in your own style. Otherwise, you’ll only be capable of a String of Pearls term paper: one quotation followed by insipid words leading to another quotation—on and on and on. Because the subject never became part of you.”

And that’s the tragedy of our age. We encourage our children to follow the path of least resistance—they faithfully follow our suggestion. How? By staring zombie-like into electronic screens hour after hour. But virtually none of that imagery can ever be their own: it was all created by someone else, and thus it was blasted straight into their mental archives without any involvement of the receiver’s brain. That’s why, when I tell a class of Freshman Composition students to take out a sheet of paper and begin to write, the reader (having many stylistic templates to draw from) can hardly wait to begin writing; the non-reader, however, can only stare at the piece of paper, being incapable of writing a coherent sentence or paragraph.

That’s why millions who grow up plagiarizing cannot not cheat: because of years of mental laziness, there is nothing original (unique to them alone) in their brains to draw from. So they have only two alternatives: fail the course—or cheat.

But when they grow up and enter the workaday world, sooner or later there will come a day of reckoning, when the boss will discover that this particular employee is incapable of original thought. Fortune 500 CEOs have developed a test for prospective employees that involves a series of interlocking steps leading to a solution. When the prospects take the test, they discover that a step was left out (such as A, B, D, E); the reader, having developed a part of the brain scholars call “the library,” where the brain talks to itself, is able to bridge the gulf, or synapse, en route to a solution. The non-reader can only stare at the gulf till Doomsday, unable to move on.

Which brings us back to Jim Martin, who concludes his insightful commentary with these sober words:

Our age of instant information offers in nearly every aspect of business, academia and media the temptation to exalt outcome over process, to value doing something quickly over doing it effectively and honestly.

Somehow, our citizens have come to believe that money or pride matters more than integrity. And we have allowed this to happen.

Our lessons about achieving excellence, getting into the “best” schools and colleges, getting elected to public office and the general opulence and promise offered of e-business have sent a dangerous message to our citizens people: you can have it all and have it now.

Maybe public exposure will put an end to this character defect, but I doubt it. In the long run, society at large will have to re-establish the values of effort and process, rather than simply holding up too high the rewards of success, power, being elected, or money.

All in all, this will be a difficult task, but the message must go out loud and clear—that there is no such thing as instantaneous writing, and that those shortcuts shortchange.

That message may sound old and familiar, but that’s because it is lifted from the familiar lessons of life, not some site on the Internet.

SPECIAL NOTE

Next week, we begin a four-month series of blogs on our historic national park lodges in the Northwest (we just returned from visiting each one).

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“OUTWITTED” AND THE ZANE GREY’S WEST SOCIETY

Twenty-eight years ago it was when the Rev. G. M. Farley (a Pentecostal minister and administrator) and I had a far-reaching discussion having to do with the issue of organizing (or NOT organizing) a society dedicated to celebrating the life and works of the frontier writer, Zane Grey.

At one point in our discussion, G. M. sighed and said, “Unless our conventions turn out to be different from all the other conventions I attend, I’d rather we’d not even start this one.”

“Explain yourself,” I broke in.

“It’s this way, in every convention I attend, it’s always the same: People aimlessly milling around—almost all of them lonely.”

“True, G. M. I’ve noticed the same thing. I’ve often thought, as I walked through the crowd of attendees, and looked enviously at those few who seemed to belong, in occasional clusters of attendees who appeared to know each other, Wouldn’t it be great to belong to at least one of them? To have someone’s eyes light up at sight of me and welcome me in? “But I just don’t know how we could do any better than they.”

“Neither do I,” rejoined G.M., but let’s at least seek out a solution before we give up on our dream.”

At one point in our brainstorming, I happened to mention a poem by Edwin Markham, late in the nineteenth century, Poet Laureate of America. Turns out G.M. was already familiar with it: “The very thing! If that doesn’t work, nothing will! Let’s try it!

Joe Wheeler delivering keynote address

And so we did. At each one of our now 28 consecutive conventions, for the benefit of first-time attendees, I first recite the poem out loud, then I lead out in having us all recite it together (after first explaining the history of its origins and use in our Society, and urging all attendees to each implement Markham’s words in each interaction with others).

Paul and Jeannie Morton

It works. Indeed it works so well that one of the last things G.M. said to me before he died was this: “Thank God for that poem! There are no lonely people in our Society. If anyone sits at a table alone, others walk over and invite them to join them at their table. When they travel, they make a point of visiting each other. They consistently arrive early at the conventions in order to fellowship with each other. In fact, they’re closer to each other than even my own church members are to each other!”

ZGW Society members enjoying an all-day ride on the Rogue River.

I shall conclude with the poem that single-handedly defines the love each member of the Zane Grey’s West Society has for each other:

“He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout;
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.”

“Outwitted,” by Edwin Markham

SPECIAL NOTE

Because of a special blog series on our Northwest national parks beginning the first week in August, we are scheduling our next blog (on Plagiarism) for tomorrow, July 29.

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FORMAL EDUCATION—LET THE BUYER BEWARE

In last Wednesday’s blog, I touched on a number of things about formal education that are good, positive, and helpful growth-wise. In this week’s, we’ll deal with formal education’s down-side. Since I’m a product of homeschooling; parochial education; state university education; ivy league education; teaching in junior high, senior high, junior college, college/university, adult education; as well as independent research, editing, and writing, I feel I can now approach formal education objectively.

First and foremost, formal education is not the real world; each segment of it is a self-propelled entity bordering on virtual reality. Thus it is a grave mistake to assume that academic success will equate with real world career-success. In fact, the two are not very compatible with each other. Let me explain:

Once your parents enroll you in formal education—let’s say kindergarten—, it’s like an assembly-line or car-wash; your own engine is left on a siding for it won’t be needed for a long time. Year after year, your teachers and administrators will be your engineers; all you have to do is follow orders. Over time, you become ever more subservient to these academic demi-gods who have such awesome power over you; if they dislike you, they can cripple your future career by lowering your grade or failing you outright, for grading is one of the most subjective and least-understood things on earth—paradoxically, even among educators themselves.

But what happens when you graduate at last and enter the job market? What all too many discover is that their own engine has remained on a siding for so long, it’s all rusted out. They no longer know how to be self -propelling. Many never do get the old engine up and running again; in such cases, they either accept other-directedness or find some job position in academia, the only world they understand. And some (a real serendipity to school administrators and business managers) become perpetual students: always learning but never putting their learning into practice.

Also, in degree areas that ostensibly equate with the real world (such as business, management, economics, technology, engineering, etc.), there is invariably a significant gap between cutting-edge developments in the real world and academic catch-up. For instance, schools of business are now reeling because the template they were basing their degrees on has dramatically revealed its obsolescence in the plunging, undulating roller coasterish stock market in today’s recessionary times, where no one is perceived to have the answers any more: not Wall Street, not economists, not pundits, not talking heads, not overseeing bureaucrats—not even that erstwhile golden boy of investors: Warren Buffett—no one appears to have the answers. Least of all, academia.

Another weakness of formal education is that it is so stratified and straitjacketed by regulations that it more often than not fails to adequately challenge eager learners. All too often, especially in elementary and secondary education, it degenerates into a form of social homogenization and control. If a teacher has 25 – 35 squirming bodies in a given class, s/he cannot possibly do justice to each one, therefore administrators will, more often than not, judge teacher performance by classroom discipline (that’s far easier to measure).

One significant weakness of formal regimented education is that it makes no room for side-trips. You are told to study certain things; and if you regurgitate them according to the teacher’s expectations and demands, you may be awarded an A. Thus, if I am taking a literature course, and told to study only one play by Shakespeare—say King Lear—, there is no incentive for me to also read Hamlet or Richard II. But—if I am taking but one literature class at a time, or being homeschooled, or reading on my own, while I’m at it, I can read Shakespeare clear through. Which I’ve done. But not while taking a full-load in an academic institution. Actually, I’ve experienced far more mental growth taking just one class at a time than I ever have taking a full-load, where I have to rush just to keep up with the teacher’s reading demands.

Also, formal education is hard on individual creativity. In the vast majority of instances, you are not rewarded for creativity, but rather by conformity to the demands of the teacher or the system. Mavericks are tolerated at best. Those who tend to think outside the box are not generally popular in academia—unless you’re a McArthur or Fullbright scholar, of course.

I guess what I’m getting at in this blog is this: I am not suggesting that we throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. What I am suggesting is that we realize up-front that academia cannot be considered to be “real world”—that is not its function. Thus, if you wish to be truly successful in real life, then that presupposes that you will continue to keep your own engine in good running order, with plenty of independent side trips to give it exercise. Parallel to your formal education ought to be a major emphasis on personal growth (based on such things as voracious reading and journaling from books, magazines, newspapers, judicious use of the media, travel, lectures, personal inquiry, research, writing, etc). If you do these things, you will have a counterbalance to the dependence that invariably results from grade-dominated formal education. Thus you may end up with the best of both worlds.

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DON’T LET CONCRETE SETTLE IN YOUR HEAD

The moment you’re satisfied with what you’ve got,
The concrete has begun to settle in your head.”
—Reader’s Digest

Modern technology has made it imperative that education be lifelong rather than merely a stage. Do you remember the feeling, as a child, of holding on to the circular bar of a playground merry-go-round as it went faster and faster, and the centrifugal force was so great you felt that at any moment you’d blindly sail off into space? Sometimes the frantic pace of our lives produces the same feeling. Yet, the price of just letting go is higher than one might think.

Nicholas Murray Butler put it this way: “If your curve of efficiency is ascending at 45, and keeps ascending after that period, it may well move upward for your whole life, but if there is a turn downward at 45, you will never recover.” Of course the age designation of 45 is a relative term.

The good Lord created us to grow at every stage of our lives—and on into eternity. Again and again, in His parables, Christ hammered home the message that continual growth is a divine mandate, not merely an option.

Some years ago, in Texas, I was privileged to develop, implement, and run an adult degree program created for all those who seek to re-board the growth-wagon of life. Those were some of the most energizing years I ever experienced. What a difference between those students and the average college students (18 – 22 years old) who more often than not are clueless about life and rarely pose Life’s Three Eternal Questions: Who am I? Where have I come from? and Where am I going? All too many flounder through their college years, drop out, or graduate without any real sense of purpose, or even direction.

Not so adult students! When they re-enter the academic world they remind you of Shakespeare’s Cassius:

“Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look”

That’s just it: they come back because they are hungry for what they once took for granted, and are frantically trying to make up for lost time. Indeed some keep sighing, “Oh, I keep thinking of all the years I’ve lost,” as though that loss of momentum precludes ever climbing back on Life’s Juggernaut. I refused to accept such a cop-out; most would sheepishly grin and sign up when I posed this reality to them: “You know, five years from now you’re going to be five years older whether or not you begin the degree process—why not at least be aiming somewhere?”

It was surprising to discover how many were back because they’d finally realized one of life’s most brutal realities: they might very well be the men or women who, more than any others, propelled their company or institution to success, but almost invariably someone with that piece of parchment we call a degree was holding the key position of leadership in their sector, and drawing a commensurate paycheck. And it never ceased to amaze me how quickly my adult students would move up the career ladder once their bosses discovered they were enrolled in a degree program and were making steady progress towards that goal.

That’s really what degrees do for you. They don’t by themselves make you more intelligent, but because people perceive that they do, they validate in the public’s eye everything you do, write, or say. Then there is the requisite self-discipline. Employers feel that anyone who has earned a degree has exhibited staying-power, something they’re always seeking in their top employees.

Degrees accomplish something else in our lives. Sort of like the Millionaire game show: if you miss a given question, you can only drop back so far (to the last major plateau). Just so degrees offer you achievement plateaus you can drop back to, and build towards the next plateau higher up. They represent solid foundational blocks of achievement.

Nor should we ever discount the difference degrees make in our own attitudes toward ourselves. Deserved or undeserved, we stand taller and straighter with them than without. Though it is a subtle difference, we feel it, and it energizes us to continue growing. Each graduation ceremony may thus be likened to another booster rocket in our life’s trajectory.

Given the current rate of technological change, however, degree programs, and even the textbooks prepared for them, may become obsolete before you can even prepare for them. That’s why what your degree is in means less and less each year that passes; it’s the fact that you completed one that makes you a viable job candidate.

Also, as a former chair of English and Communication departments, and hence coordinator of job placement of our graduates, I can testify that, more and more in a society obsessed with electronics, there is developing an ever more desperate search for women and men who can think rationally, reason from cause to effect, explore different schools of thought without getting argumentative, and articulate coherently and persuasively both in speech and on paper.

So, wherever we are in life, the truly imperative thing is that each of us needs to make sure we’re in a growth mode. Not to be in one is a living death.

I’ll leave the last word today to Phillips Brooks:

The ideal life is in our blood and never will be still. Sad will be the day for us when we become contented with the thoughts we are thinking and the deeds we are doing—where there is not forever beating at the doors of our souls some desire to do something larger, which we know that we were meant and made to do.