Graduation was yesterday. I understand from attendees fewer than half of those graduating actually appeared to collect their faux diploma and have their photo snapped with the university president. Unoccupied chairs far outnumbered family and friends in the audience. I suspected as much. I noticed no significant increase in vehicle traffic. My bookstore/coffee shop haunt was busy handling returns and buy-backs, though only because of the end-of-semester business cycle.
I’m glad people are graduating. As I heard on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS show on CNN, education is one investment people are choosing to avoid. One of the few true ways of expanding the economy, not manipulating the tax code. I wonder how well their job search will go, if those graduating are moving into jobs, or are now engaging in a job search, and how many are holding off on finding employment to pursue other interests, first, like sleep.
I wonder how they selected their major. I wonder how many academic program changes were made over the course of their academic career. I wonder what other majors were explored prior to arriving at their chosen major. I wonder who helped them decide, who helped them narrow the focus of their interest. I wonder how much research was conducted in their exploration towards deciding on their chosen field.
I think if I knew the answers to those questions, I would understand more about U.S. employment and employment counseling. The answers might go a long way towards developing sound 9-12, and Higher Education education policy.
In high school, most of the classmates I would call, “my peers,” headed for engineering. Me, too. I wanted to design rockets. Not the rockets fired at people, but the rockets that shot into space. The rockets that carried people, not the type that ran them through, or blew them to bits. Or, jets. In this case, jets that carried one person, or two, and did engage other jets in mortal combat.
That’s what happens when one grows up watching Johnny Socko and his Giant Robot, Star Trek reruns, Tom Baker’s Dr. Who, the B&W Flash Gordon, the B&W Buck Rogers, H.G. Wells “World of the Worlds,” “The Time Machine.” As a high school student, I wanted to be at the forefront of technology. I wanted to leave the earth behind and be on the flight deck of a starship, pointed in the direction of, “out there.”
After failing thermodynamics for the third time, I had to face the fact my intellect was not going to carry me into space, or anyone else for that matter. Only a miracle surgery, a la “Flowers for Algernon,” would unlock my potential. As far as I am aware, such surgery does not exist, not even 45 years beyond Daniel Keyes story.
Two years later, I had accumulated 70+ hours of college credit, courtesy of my local community college and a scholarship I received for graduating in the top 10% of my high school class. Burnt-out on engineering, math, and physics, I opted for one more semester of classes having nothing to do with science. American Literature II, Business Law, Accounting I allowed me to explore other options. Business Law was fun, and so was Accounting. Be advised, to an Accounting instructor, a 89.9997 is not a 90%. Having spent 2 years in engineering, I understood significant digits. My arguments were lost on the instructor. American Lit II came easy. But, I could not figure out how knowledge of literature would translate into a high-paying job. How can someone with a Literature degree afford the Batmobile?
I needed to go to university. I should have attended UMKC. Instead, I elected to attend Central Missouri State. A counselor, hoping to ease my time in college, guided me into Mathematics, with an English minor. I had a lot of hours in math and English. Math congealed my grey matter, though. What about Computer Science? Having had Fortran and Pascal already, that might not be so bad. Yeah, Computer Science had the same thickening effect of cornstarch, congealing my brain. I had to find something else.
One night, in the library, hiding from my idiot fraternity brothers, more interested in tormenting me than attending to their own education, I sat with the college catalog, and a piece of paper. On the paper, I wrote my interests on the left side of the notebook paper. Down the middle, I listed my class-related skills, like calculus, trigonometry, physics, chemistry, etc. On the right column, I wrote down the fields and disciplines I found in my college catalog which seemed to coincide with my skills and interests. I then narrowed the list down to options I thought I could tolerate.
And ended up with Geography.
Nearly every discipline and field involves geography. After all, geography is literally about describing the world. From economics, mathematics, chemistry, to history, medicine, and psychology, geography is embedded in all things tangible and intangible.
Geography blended well with my own predisposition towards learning. From my hours spent in my public library, hours spent reading, the travels of my own family, the education of my own family, geography seemed to present the perfect answer to my academic dilemma.
Being interested in so much stuff as a child only grew worse later in life. I could see how geography infused all disciplines, even disciplines that my own lack of cerebral horsepower preventing me from grasping. Geography allowed me to continue to appreciate economics, politics, history, physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology though from my own lens.
And that is the great attribute of geography, the ability to learn in a holistic sense, many different aspects of Life. Geography encourages looking at a subject within a historical sense, a current sense, and a future sense. Geography encourages the use of other disciplines to research, analyze, and contemplate many different types of concerns and issues.
Geography has pride, pride derived from knowledge that geography is a component of all things, like the omnipresent force of the Zoroastrians. Geographers borrow from other disciplines, as needed, and tend to be less myopic than other disciplines. We know that Site and Situation are important, and that biology, history, economics, and chemistry play considerable roles in their singular scope.
Often, I find folks attached to other disciplines shocked and surprised by my seemingly easy grasp of their science. “How do you know this stuff?” they asked, bewildered. Believe me, I say, it’s not because I’m smart. I’m a geographer, and geography encourages me to pay attention. I know something things about economics, history, chemistry, math; I put that knowledge together with my geography knowledge and skills. What seems odd really isn’t, and most geographers are trained in such ways. I’m only moderately unique simply because few people opt to study geography.
Geography gives me an excuse to learn programming, to use my math knowledge, to be creative with map-making (cartography). Geography gives me an excuse to learn economics and history. In fact, one can study neither economics nor history without also studying geography. Impossible.
Geography today is not the Cultural Geography of pre-1940s America. Geography today involves computers, hardware, software, programming and database skills. Geography today involves young minds using technology in new and different ways to explore the issues of climate change, the migration of people, important health concerns such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, and tropical diseases. Geography today insinuates into our lives via our smartphones when we check-in to Facebook, Foursquare, or Latitude. And, where would we be without our dashboard navigator (No pun intended)?
I fell into geography by accident, after almost 3 years of trial-and-error. That can happen when one is good at plenty but excels at nothing. But, that doesn’t mean you need to follow the same example.
By paying attention to yourself, paying attention to what you like, what you are good at, by listening to your family (hopefully) and your close friends (again, hopefully), you should be able to shorten your discovery time towards finding your own First Path in Life. I say, “hopefully,” because if you don’t have supportive parents, don’t have a supportive family, or you have surrounded yourself with people that have no goals, prefer to drink, smoke, use drugs, and are generally caught up in the moment, then you are going to have a terrible time. Especially if you get caught up in criminal activity and have your Life ruined by ending up in jail, or prison. Perform a cranial-rectal extraction and do the right thing.
Ditch those worthless people. They are anchors; dead-weight holding you down, holding you back. Don’t feel bad about it, either. You deserve more than crazy people who have no desire to be educated and want nothing more than stand in your way.
Educate yourself; and educate yourself intelligently.
Then you can find a job or three that you really like.