After over 33 years of teaching, I have retired from the professoriate.
Though growing up the son of a professor and elementary school/kindergarten teacher, the notion of being an instructor myself was never even a passing comet across my horizon.
Indeed, in college I remained often too shy to speak up in class for fear my voice would crack. My first semester teaching was so stressful (all self-induced, as usual) that I got gastritis and lost 20 pounds.
But the best Christmas gift of my life was when, with trembling hands, I read my first student evaluations, and they were actually positive. That provided some much needed confidence, and each succeeding semester got better.
Soon teaching became the center of my life. It provided meaning, structure and identity. Over the next few decades I would be blessed to teach at Gordon College in Barnesville and Gainesville State College in Gainesville, which later became the Gainesville campus of the University of North Georgia.
How grateful I am to have had a career where I got paid to read, think, talk and write about what I’ve read, thought, talked and written about on my own since I was 6 years old and excited about the 1968 presidential election.
I am in awe that so many thousands of students patiently listened to me talk about politics, history, religion, philosophy, culture and myriad other topics.
How appreciative I am that such a large number of students candidly contributed to so many vibrant discussions of countless issues. They will never know how much they taught me.
Indeed, for all the bad news about today’s college students, may we please recall that — like with so many other groups — often only the loudest and least impressive get the bulk of publicity. For every obnoxious student acting irresponsibly in public, there are many, many more who are kind, studying hard, working one or more jobs to pay their tuition, volunteering with their church and other worthy efforts, and often in the midst of difficult family situations during that uniquely challenging chapter of life when we transition from childhood to adulthood.
Just because these young folks don’t seek out the limelight doesn’t mean they don’t need our support and prayers.
How fortunate I have also been to work with such a large number of fine professors, staff and even several administrators. May everyone know that, for all the negative trends in higher education in recent decades, there really is a large number of dedicated educational professionals working hard to provide a top-quality education despite so many pressures from the popular culture and many forces on campus to do otherwise. They have earned — and need — our appreciation and support. May God continue to bless them and all their students.
Though these musings and two dollars will buy you a Coke, here is my advice upon retirement. As for a career, follow the wisdom of Confucius and “choose a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.”
Far more importantly, never miss an opportunity to be kind, do good, help others, learn, grow, have fun and work toward peace of mind.
Precisely because this life is remarkably fragile, brief and therefore oh so precious, take nothing for granted. Create your own opportunities when none appears. Realize this is the one life we know we’ve got.
When tempted to turn down the chance to make a difference or just a swell time, remember graveyards don’t merely represent the past, but our ever more rapidly approaching future.
The worst part of aging is regret at all the lost chances that are never coming back, and my top regret of all is having fretted over so many fears that proved to be utterly unfounded or trivial. Throwing away so many precious moments worrying should have been my top fear.
So don’t waste time. It’s all we’ve got and runs out faster as we age. And far more important than supposedly being right, smart or successful is just being kind.
Finally, whatever our career, may we never forget we are all role models. That lesson was branded on me years ago at the funeral of Sandy Head, a lovely 80-year-old WWII veteran. Since he had no family of his own, I didn’t expect many mourners — but the chapel was packed.
In lieu of a eulogy, the pastor asked anyone ever helped or inspired by Sandy to come down front and share. Sure enough, folks started speaking up.
Sandy had given someone a place to stay, Sandy had done this, Sandy had done that. I sat transfixed, amazed one man could have made such a positive difference in so many folks’ lives, and most of whom didn’t even know each other.
After two full hours of tributes, the pastor closed the service with these words:
“You see. You see. Every single one of us is a role model, for better or worse, in everything we do and everything we don’t, in everything we say and everything we leave unsaid. Yes, we all have a far, far greater impact on far, far more people’s lives than we will ever know — for better or worse.”
So we really are way more connected to each other than we realize and our actions truly do have a much greater impact on way more folks’ lives than we can ever know — for better or worse.
Douglas Young is a retired University of North Georgia political science professor.