"Try to learn something about everything and everything about something."
— Thomas Huxley
One mistake young people make is believing learning is a season, a time in your life when you go to school, get an education and move on.
The truth is life itself is an education. If you make the effort, stay aware and inquisitive, remain open to new ideas and refuse to believe you "know it all," your journey through life can be one of continuous learning.
Today, had the weather cooperated, I would have been in San Antonio accepting an award for my support — and the newspaper's coverage — of schools and public education. I'm honored by the recognition, but I'm not all that special. I'm not a scholar, an academic or a genius. … I'm really not all that smart.
But I do think of myself as a lifelong learner, and that's enough.
My journey was made possible by parents who cared. There were five of us, and my parents had their hands full just surviving … but they worked hard to assure we learned — reading to us, including us in conversations, traveling to interesting places and introducing us to the world through newspapers, books and magazines. We explored the farm, learned about nature, studied the weather, watched the stars and listened intently and quietly at the edges of grownup conversations.
For my first seven years of grade school — a one-classroom schoolhouse at the edge of our farm — I was the only student in my grade. Individual attention is rare, but I got it. I also learned from what was being taught to grades higher than mine and by helping younger students understand what I already knew.
Even in rural Kansas, we talked about politics, held our own presidential debates and stayed on top of international developments in the Cold War and the space race. From Mr. Fritschen, a teacher who joined us on the ball field despite braces on his legs, we learned tenacity and perseverance ... and why we needed our polio shots.
In eighth grade, in a "big-city" junior high, I learned about competition, fitting in, holding my own and surviving in a class of 125.
In high school, Miss Lane made me aware of the complexities of the world around us, and Mr. Baxter convinced me I could do something special with my life — even though he was convinced I should become an accountant.
Slow and athletically challenged, I took my lumps on the gridiron, learned Coach "Bones" Nay's bullhorn barbs weren't personal and toughed it out through growing pains that added four inches to my height that final year. On the wrestling mat, Coach Vernon taught us about takedowns and reversals, pride and commitment, pain and extra effort.
I learned about sacrifice from my parents, who pushed their children to learn, putting all five of us through college. We worked hard, at dozens of jobs, learning the value of that education. I never took it for granted.
My second year of college, I learned enough to know that a business degree wasn't what I wanted, and I stumbled happily into a long dance with journalism.
My exuberance for getting a degree flagged somewhere in my junior year, but my brother wrote from Vietnam, encouraging me to stick with it — teaching me to finish what I started.
In the Army, I learned duty, service and discipline … and that I could push myself farther than I believed possible. In Vietnam, I learned the world is not always fair, or decent or pretty … but that I could endure and see it through.
Back in the working world, I learned about getting and keeping a job, doing it well, making the most of each opportunity and pushing through change and disruption. I learned about leadership and stewardship, confidence and cooperation, when to be conservative and when to go for it. I learned that bad experiences often teach as much as good ones.
My hope is that my education will continue forever — learning about the world and its people, about cultures and customs, about what makes life so interesting.
I can think of nothing more boring than resigning myself to live with an education that has ended, content only with what I know … or think I know.
I'm a sponge … a life-long learner. I may sop up a lot of silliness along with the important stuff. But by now, I think I've learned enough to know the difference.
Dave Berry retired at the end of the year as editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. His Focal Point column appears each Wednesday on the front of the My Generation section.