My argument was that I never had needed it. My wife's assertion was simply that I never had completed it. I could offer no defense.
So, thanks to that gentle persuasion--and a timely Sports Illustrated cover story on professional athletes who had returned to college which featured Emmett Smith of the Dallas Cowboys in cap and gown (Hey, I thought, if he can do it, so can I!)--I finally heeded her counsel and in August of '96 re-enrolled to finish my degree. Now, as a graduate of the University of Utah, it's "Who am I, sir? A Utah man am I!"
Having earned a master's degree, my wife, Wendy, had every right (and my best interests at heart) to nudge me back into those hallowed halls after a 22-year absence.
My long hiatus is well described by an observation of the late John Lennon. "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." I had earned 175 credit hours in the four years following a serious accident and extensive rehabilitation, when I was 20 and in my first year at the U. Having completed all that work and been so near to earning a degree should have been more than enough incentive for me to persevere. Unfortunately, it wasn't.
An opportunity to purchase and run a photography business captured my attention instead. Following that enterprise I worked as a music writer for The Salt Lake Tribune for 10 years and took on plenty of free-lance writing jobs, so having a degree really never had been an issue. Neither did it seem important for owning a music club, as I have done for the last seven years, nor for the proofreader/writer position that I've held for even longer than that with a local weekly newspaper. I simply had gotten used to thinking that having just that much education was good enough.
What I should have realized all along, however, was that I had proceeded from a faulty premise: I really did need that degree. I see now that I needed the extra dimension that comes with being introduced to a world of new ideas. I needed the foundation of literary classics that I had missed. I needed the respect that came with a college education. Most of all, I needed the sense of achievement I felt when completing the goal I had originally set when first starting college.
Having the age advantage over most of my classmates (and a few of my professors!) was just one aspect of being a "non-traditional student." With the benefit of so much life experience (Okay, being old!), I felt far more able to appreciate and comprehend the wealth of material presented in my courses by so many superb professors. It was also a joy and a surprise to hear the observations and wisdom of my younger classmates.
I also was surprised to discover that 24.9 is currently the average age of the University student population. Over the last 10 years, the percentage of students age 24-30 has continued to increase, and while really only a footnote, the number of males in my age group (46-50) attending the University nevertheless has nearly doubled. I was not alone in this postliminary pursuit of education.
Another advantage of being a more "seasoned student" was that I had different objectives in mind. Upon reflection, I realized that education is the foundation for securing a better job and improving the quality of one's life.
In returning to the U, I realized that I was blessed with the luxury of taking classes not from necessity but for the love of knowledge. Still, knowledge without action is pointless, as Salt Lake City Rev. France Davis MA'78 so wisely observed: "Learn to do some things, not just learn something."
As with everything else, costs have escalated since I first attended the U, but the value of higher education still cannot be overemphasized. I doubt that I could have achieved as much as I have so far without an education. The investment I made in time and tuition has paid dividends, not only for the previously mentioned reasons, but also for the simple fact that when it comes to the important decisions in this uncertain world, I'll at least be able to make an educated guess.
--John Paul Brophy is a graduate of the class of '98 with a bachelor of arts degree in English. He owns the Dead Goat Saloon in Salt Lake City.
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