Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Making a Difference

One person can have an impact on another, on millions of people, on a country, on the world, on the universe.  One person can make a difference.  One insignificant measure of this, is that today, with all of the infinite number of huge and miniscule things happening on our planet, some huge portion of the human race is watching, reading, or thinking about Steve Jobs – and probably doing so via a device that he envisioned or created.

I don’t have much to add to the discussion of his life.  But, I have noticed that many people are watching, sharing, re-tweeting, etc. his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address (embedded below).  It’s worth it – it is a concise, 3-story triptych that moves from birth, to learning love and loss, to death.  He tells it much like the way his Apple products are designed: his talk rings with clarity, it is elegant in its simplicity, it is different, it is important.

I was struck by his first story – about his birth, adoption and education.  His life was different from his first breath – as are the lives of all of us.  But, as an adoptee he had to recognize that fact – and possibly, in some part, that recognition may have led to his willingness to live differently.

One way that he actively chose to live differently was his “scary” decision to drop out of Reed College after 6 months.  By that point, he realized that he “had no idea what [he] wanted to do with [his] life, and no idea how college was going to help [him] figure it out.”  But upon dropping out,  he didn’t just do nothing.  Rather, the decision was a watershed moment that freed him to stop taking required classes that he wasn’t interested in – and to sit in on classes that he was interested in – and to start thinking about, learning and doing things that mattered to him. It wasn’t easy or romantic.  He scrounged for money, food and a place to sleep – while sitting in on classes that might have seemed frivolous and completely impractical at the time, like calligraphy.  He learned about fonts, proportional spacing, and the making of great typography – all of which years later became a cornerstone of the very first Macs.

The story is not about choosing whether or not to go to college; at any given time, college may or may not be right for any given individual.  Rather, the story is about developing and gaining trust in yourself.  He calls it ‘connecting the dots.’  As you grow and change, you can’t know where all the dots of your life may lead in the future.  It’s about being willing to trust in something within yourself, “your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever,” and developing the belief that you can find things you care about and that you can pursue those things .  He believed that having the self-trust that the dots will connect and make sense when you look back on your life will “give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path… and that will make all the difference.”


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Graduated – Part 2

Today’s post piggy-backs on yesterday’s post about what it means to have “graduated.” Last spring David Brooks wrote a different kind of article in the NYT about graduation and how we actively fail to adequately prepare college graduates for their post-college world. Pointing to the hackneyed themes of nearly every college commencement address given over the past half century, he notes that the baby-boomer mantra that you only need to “follow your dreams” omits the fine print about the work of developing skills, confronting problems and constructing a life.

Some key bits:

College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments… Today’s graduates are also told to find their passion and then pursue their dreams. The implication is that they should find themselves first and then go off and live their quest. But, of course, very few people at age 22 or 24 can take an inward journey and come out having discovered a developed self…  Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life…  Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.

Click here to read the whole thing.  It’s some tough medicine – but definitely worth a read whether you’re in school or have a son or daughter there.

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Suspended in Time

Sometimes, as you approach a beginning, it’s appropriate to start at the end.  The Class of 2011 “graduated” last June.  We tend to think of a graduation as an abrupt and final step, distinct from what came before or what comes after.  But is that right?

The word “graduated” can mean – divided into intervals or to change gradually.  An “interval” is the time or space between two moments or states.

Through this lens graduation is less of an event than an interval connecting one important part of your life to another.  Like the mortarboards suspended in time in the picture above, graduation is a waypoint where things are momentarily at rest, a time of equilibrium and introspection where, in the blink of eye we can scan back and forward to the fleeting images of all the classes, stories, laughter, tears, games and songs that came before and to the journey that lies ahead.

It’s not so different with these last few moments before the first day of school begins.  With the warmth of summer at our backs, who knows what stories new sixth graders may write for themselves this year, or what plans the rising seniors will craft for themselves and their time after graduation, or the potential that awaits all the other students and families as the 2011-2012 school year opens.

With last year in the rear view mirror and the new year on the horizon, take advantage of this quiet interval to watch the performance of Joe Pug’s Hymn 101 by Kevin Messinger and Nora Schlang at last summer’s graduation.  Performed in a sanctuary, the song appropriately is a prayer to the actions and hopes that trailed the graduates as they walked in and those that awaited them as they left.  Or, in other words, as Kevin says in his introduction, the song’s about “movin’ around… and finding yourself…”

Thanks to Mike and Amanda Messinger for the video (Amanda makes a cameo vocal appearance!).

More graduation pics at BurkePix – click here!

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Another end to a year in AP Calculus…another pi vs e debate!  Which is the better transcendental number?   This year’s debaters divided on gender lines, prompting Sammi to put out the call for more women to join the e team…check the photos to see Chris Richardson doing his best.   AP Physics and others paid a visit, e-teamers sang a song, pi-teamers got Biblical, fierce arguments ensued, silliness prevailed, Annee generously took pictures, and finally, pie and e-clairs were consumed with great gusto.

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Turns out that to err is human.  In fact, it may just be a necessary and uniquely important part of our DNA – as well as a critical tool in our evolutionary and personal development.

Tim Harford, aka The Undercover Economist, thinks that we can often succeed by failing productively.  Take a look at his short (and very cool) video below about the importance of understanding failure in order to better understand success.  He runs through three keys to failing successfully.

By looking at “failure” from a different perspective, he redefines what it means to “make” a mistake.  In other words, some mistakes, whether in science, or education or life, are the result of trying and are in a sense intentional.  In this light, the trick is not to avoid or discourage the making of mistakes.  Rather, the magic of learning is to be open to and encourage the making of those mistakes that you have prepared for and that you are willing to analyze before making the next assault.

Btw – Harford’s new book, Adapt, covers the waterfront of how to go about making mistakes.

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It’s college notification week.  All across the country high school seniors are re-living their first grade experience of waiting to see who picks them for kickball.  Except now the choice is being made by people who know so little about the kids that put so much faith in them.  Why are we so willing to line up to be picked?

Marketing guru, Seth Godin advises that in most things you don’t need to wait to be picked – you should pick yourself.  In his recent blog post, Reject the Tyranny of Being Picked: Pick Yourself, he writes:

It’s a cultural instinct to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission and authority that comes from a publisher or talk show host or even a blogger saying, “I pick you.” Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you–that Prince Charming has chosen another house–then you can actually get to work.

No one picked the Friday song girl...

He cites Amanda Hocking who made a million dollars putting out her own Kindle book with no publisher and Rebecca Black who reached more than 15,000,000 listeners (for good or bad) without a record label.

Is it that important that we get picked by the school; should it be heartbreaking to not get picked by a particular college?  Or is there another way to approach the next step after high school?

Seth Godin

Borrowing from Godin, if you’re relying on that one perfect school to pick you, it may be a long wait. On the other hand, once you understand that there are problems just waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have and can get all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound.

In other (Godin) words, you don’t need someone to pick you. Pick yourself.



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To help make your spring break even more sublime, watch Beethoven being conducted like he’s never been conducted before!  Watch ’til the end so that you can see how the maestro incorporates the nose for the first time into the conducting repertoire… and you’ll love the finale.

H/T – to my bro-in-law, Dana.

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