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The College Dilema

By: Jason Gregory

Two things my grandfather always said to me before he died: “Youth is wasted on the young” and, “If you do what you love, and love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.” As a young man of 17, I always believed he was being critical of the younger generation, but now, being in my mid-forties, I see his point. Mine is a generation that saw many things invented only to become obsolete: a generation of video arcades, Blockbuster, and the Walkman, etc. It was also a generation that believed that a college degree was not entirely necessary to make a decent living. We embraced the idea that working with our hands was a noble thing, where a hard day’s work earned a decent day’s wage, and the corporate world was for the elite few, whose parents could afford to send them to college. I followed this idea in life, serving the greater good in my own fashion. Truth be told, I never felt the need to obtain a college degree in my youth. After all, the world was “my oyster.” If I worked hard, it did not matter what I did in life, I could be a success. However, I also knew it must be earned. Nothing was free, and nobody was going to give me anything. This philosophy has not changed for me. It is as true today as it was 30 years ago when I was a high school student. In the end, I did what was required and contributed to society any way I could, without question.

In my lifetime, I have held many jobs in many fields: veteran, commercial truck driver, bartender and even pizza maker, just to name a few. Eventually, my high school diploma afforded me a career in law enforcement. Thus, for 20 years I served “The Man” to earn my keep. To be honest, I was good at my job and I had success in my career, but my grandfather would say I “worked” for a living. When I retired in February of 2017, I contemplated my future. After all, I was too young to be retired. What was I to do with the remainder of my life? Golf? Vacation? Sure, I could sit down and finally relax, but I had held a job since the age of 14, and this was not the time to rest on my laurels. I was raised believing every person must contribute to society. After all, even those who were retired could be of use to their fellow man. So, I decided I was going to continue life on a new career path. This time however, I would not “work.” My next career was going to be a career that followed my passion. Something I wanted to do. A career that would allow me to enjoy life on my terms without the burden of monetary stress, and bosses with unrealistic demands. Since my passion lied in my art, I was finally going to have an opportunity to do something with that passion.

I grew up drawing and sketching. I had always enjoyed it as a hobby, working within the styles of Japanese anime or tattoo art, with an occasional painting just for fun. It seems strange to me now, that I never pursued this earlier in life but, I decided this was a good time to begin. Since time was no longer a constraint, I could commit myself to learning that which I did not know. To be honest and fair, my attendance in college is not about corporate job acquisition. Since I had never taken a formal art class, my enrollment was about obtaining the basic, fundamental skills of an artist. After all, my focus is on the studio aspect of the Visual Arts Program at Westchester Community College. I want the technical skill-set of an artist, working in various media from charcoal to paint, plaster to digital media, with the ultimate intent of opening my own studio. Perhaps even continuing my education at the graduate level.

Also, earning a degree would satisfy a personal goal. As a teen in high school, I was never a very good student. Furthermore, I feel no shame for not attending college sooner. After all, my high school diploma afforded me a well-paying career with stability and benefits. Yet, I cannot help but wonder how much further my career could have gone had I attended college in my younger days. Moreover, I felt I was not intellectually capable of understanding college level material, believing the curriculum would be far too advanced for my ability. While I have never felt myself to be stupid or un-intelligent, I have felt un-educated in the literal sense. Achieving high marks in college level courses would allow a feeling of personal achievement that would bolster my own self-confidence. Earning a degree will not only broaden my knowledge, but put me one step closer to my goal of becoming a true artist. Not for the monetary gains, but the joy of adding beauty to a world that sometimes feels filled with tragedy and darkness. Now that is an achievement worth striving for. For my grandfather’s part, he was right. My youth was wasted when I was young. But, I refuse to “work” another day in my life, and for that, he would be proud.