JoAnna Bennett

JoAnna Bennett, O’Brien Communications Group

23 May 2018

There is a huge difference between going to school and being educated. One definition of education is an enlightening experience. That doesn’t require the learning to happen in a school setting, but having the right mentor can make all the difference. In my mind, the point of an education is not to memorize definitions or formulas but to learn how to process history and multiple perspectives into your own view of the world. Tara Westover put this idea beautifully into words in her memoir, Educated.

Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create.

In the majority of the world, self-creation is considered a privilege. It’s not something readily available or required. But neither of those facts negate the importance of education. And while we may take schooling for granted in America and have turned it into a business, if we look at the opportunities afforded to us from having that exposure, we’ll understand we’re ahead of the curve. An education can hold the key to getting out of bad circumstances and becoming more attuned to ourselves.

Is College Worth It?

The Gates Foundation is researching the question to which I firmly believe I already know the answer: Is college worth it? Of course college is worth it! A higher education has provided me with the opportunity to be gainfully employed. Attending university exposed me to topics such as Mass Imprisonment, The History of Police, Estate Planning, Project Management, and much more. Being exposed to a plethora of topics opened my mind to things I might never have known otherwise. It also pushed me to understand what I was intrinsically good at and drawn to.

I started college as a Media and Journalism Major. After one semester, I realized the classes required for that degree were difficult for me. However, the honors calculus class I took was a breeze. It might not be a shock to know I changed my major to Finance. If I could easily solve complex math equations, I knew it was time to focus and hone that skill. Without college and my exposure to many different disciplines, I’d never have known that strength.

Another aspect of receiving a higher education is being placed in an environment without strict guidelines on attending classes, managing workloads, or constant parental monitoring. You’re left to you own devices — to learn time management, acceptable social behaviors, and self-regulation. It wasn’t a seamless transition for me. I made plenty of mistakes and felt overwhelmed at times, but another important lesson I learned was that many other people felt the same way. Connecting with my peers and learning to be a part of a community was also part of my collegiate experience. Ralph Waldo Emerson communicates the idea of community with the following quote:

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

College taught me the meaning of life, the meaning of community, and made me feel for the first time in my life that I was not alone. It taught me to lean on my peers when I lacked knowledge or understanding. They would show me their perspectives, and I could further experience enlightenment.

Paying It Forward

Being a part of a community is powerful. And giving back to that community should be our life’s goal. Like Mr. Emerson says, being useful, honorable, and compassionate is the meaning of life. You can’t be any of those things alone.

You’ve likely heard of Keith Anderson’s commencement speech at Moorehouse College, which included a paramount act of usefulness and compassion. If you haven’t, the short story is he chose to donate his hard-earned money to pay off an entire class’s student loans. Keith understood that without his education, he wouldn’t be in the position he was in. He knew that by forgiving these student’s debt, he would free them from financial burden. His act of generosity changed each student’s life. How will they pay it forward? 

It’s easy to think we’re alone in the world, that no one would ever understand our struggles. The only way to combat that mental block is by being a part of something bigger than yourself, to be open to the idea that other people experience those same thoughts and feelings. That is enlightenment.

When you define education as an enlightening experience, it can’t be done in a silo.

And it can’t be irrelevant.