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RICK MACLEAN: Education will get you ... well, somewhere

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Knowing eyebrows shot up. Mystified looks were exchanged. In the rink that June evening award after award was announced at the high school graduation.

Beautiful Daughter’s friend wasn’t getting any of them. Sure, she received an armload of cheques for top marks in basically every course she took, but lots of other booty was up for grabs and she got none of it.

“They’re mad at her,” BW said later. “They think she should be taking a science degree at university.”

‘They,’ explained BW, included the guidance counsellors at the school. More than a dozen years later, that same friend sat in our kitchen, scratching down notes in a legal pad. She’d just moved home after spending the last few years working for a law firm in a larger centre, joined a long-established local firm, and bought a home near her parents.

Brimming with professional confidence born of years of experience doing the job well, she outlined our options for updating our wills and powers of attorney. She stopped when she noticed me smiling.

“What?” she smiled back.

“Remember the guidance counsellors...” I began.

A flatness descended over her eyes, then she beamed.

“I should drop by one day and say, ‘THIS is what that arts degree, and all those Latin courses I decided to take, got me.’”

The flood of new students entering Holland College and UPEI is set to begin. Wide-eyed students will begin their journeys – living away from home, and Mom’s cooking and laundry service, for the first time. The vast majority have no idea where it might lead.

Every fall, at least a couple of first years in the journalism program where I teach will plop down in the chair in my office one day to announce, “I’m not sure if I want to do this for the rest of my life.”

I smile.

“Don’t worry,” I reply. “The chances are you won’t do any one thing for the next 30 or 40 years. And being uncertain is pretty much the job description of every 18 to 20-year-old.”

I entered Mount Allison University in 1975 to study chemistry and calculus. Two years of Laplace transformations and analytical chemistry labs later, I’d figured out two things. Lots of people were better at both of those than me, and I didn’t enjoy either subject. I switched and earned an honors history degree.

One of my grads told me a few years ago when he graduated with the same degree, his father shook his hand, smirked and said, “Now you can work at the history factory.” Today, after a brief time in journalism, that grad is a teacher in his hometown.

Other grads have gone on to jobs with the CBC, this and other newspapers, and Canadian Press reporting on Parliament Hill. Some are teachers, others run their own firms helping companies reach customers through social media. Still others work for various provincial and federal government departments, at least one is with a professional sports team. Some are lawyers. Others are published novelists.

Students – and their parents, who are often footing much of the bill – can relax, take a deep breath and let the next few years begin to shape their lives. Find something you like doing, become very good at it, and it will work out.

Honest.

Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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