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To learn, we need to let go
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I remember the day I asked my dad to take the training wheels off of my bike. I had the feeling I was ready to go on two wheels.

Dad grabbed the seat of the two-wheeler and gave me a good start. I toppled over fairly soon. But on the second or third try, I discovered the art of balancing myself on two wheels.

Graduation is a lot like that. You get a diploma and suddenly, you realize that the training wheels are gone, and you are the one in control of the balancing act. You get to decide the next performance on your life’s stage.

We ask a lot of young people who are 17 or 18 years old. They must decide if they are going to college, technical college, into the military or will attempt to get a job. There is a good chance the experience may be like my first ride without training wheels; they may topple over. The important thing is how they pick themselves up and go again.

Michael Thurmond, the former labor commissioner, tells a funny story of when he earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy. "I looked in the paper and there wasn’t a single classified ad looking for a philosopher," I’ve heard him say.

Garrison Keillor, author and radio humorist, has often made light of himself and others who obtained an English degree in college. There aren’t many ads out there in search of English majors, either.

With the exception of those whose occupation requires a specific degree, there are thousands of people in the workforce today whose college training is a far cry from what they are doing for a living. I have a friend who got the best computer science degree they offered in 1982. Almost everything he learned is now in the history books.

So much of what I’ve learned has been an education that continues every day. A couple of times in the past, I’ve been an instructor in Brenau University’s BULLI program for lifelong learners.

Here are folks who could be watching "The Price is Right," but instead have paid good money to listen to me. The truth is that we learned from each other.

I know someone in their 80s who can use a computer, carries a personal digital device and is savvy on pop culture. I think this person’s decision to stay informed and learn a few new tricks has also helped them appear a good 15 or 20 years younger.

The day I rode my bike without training wheels was not the pinnacle of my bike-riding success. In time, I would learn how to spin my tires, ride with no hands and pop a "wheelie."

That’s my message to the class of 2011. This is the not the end, it is the beginning of taking the handlebars and setting your new course. Learning is a whole life experience and does not stop here.

Before anyone writes me, I know it is tough out there. The job market that was there when you began high school or college has changed dramatically.

But persistence and a willingness to keep learning and adapt to change will be the key to the success that hopefully awaits all of you.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on

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