Select Page



by William H. Benson

May 24, 2001

     On May 26, 1954 archaeologists digging in the sand next to Cheops’s Great Pyramid at Giza discovered a pit carved into the bedrock and covered with blocks of stone.  Once inside, the Egyptianologists found a boat made of cedars from Lebanon that was broken down into pieces.  Reconstructed it measured 150 feet long and probably conveyed Cheops’s body from the east to the west bank of the Nile for burial–only some four thousand years ago.

     Stay with me while we now switch gears.  Graduation season is upon us, and with it the national columnists are voicing their opinions on the state of education in America.  Thomas Sowell last week commented that everybody eventually drops out of the educational system at some point, some sooner than others.  He points out that even the Ph.D.’s drop out–either before or after completing their work, and many who do drop out often return to school later.  In the U.S. education is always available and is achievable. 

     Charley Reese, on the other hand is very much down on what he calls the “government-funded and government-controlled” secular system which produces what he sees is a flawed product.  He suggests that parents should pull their children out of public schools and place them in private schools.  It is his opinion–right or wrong.

     But what else can today’s high school graduate take with them to the university?

     I recently read a quote about Irving Berlin and his philosophy of life.  He saw life as composed of a few basic elements: life and death, loneliness and love, hope and defeat–not many more.  With those as givens, he realized that approval is better than complaint, hope more viable than despair, and kindness nobler than cruelty.

     Applying that to the high school graduate, I would suggest that college is not a place where the complainers, the despairing, and the cruel belong, but it is a place for the thoughtful, the approving, the hopeful, and the kind-hearted.  With just a medium measure of brain-power and gigantic doses of determination and hustle, a person can achieve remarkable success at the university, if one learns to quickly put aside the loneliness and defeated attitudes that can cripple even the smartest.

     Above all, a measure of enthusiasm is required.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”  Beware.  In this dumbing down America we live in, a four-year degree is still something we must label “great”.  Emerson would have agreed.

     Now what does education have to do with a buried boat in the Sahara?  I think it addresses the other big problem that college students endure and that is “envy”.  Not everyone goes to college.  Instead, they get jobs, make money, get married, start a family, buy a house with furniture to fill it, perhaps a farm, a business, a car, a pickup, and a boat, and none of those things are wrong.  They want to build a pyramid–gigantic, colossal, grand, rock-solid, powerful, stretching into the sky.

     Now how can the college student compete with that?  He or she is buried in a bedrock of books, term-papers, reports, lectures, and class notes, usually poor without much income and a lot of expenses.  He or she faces a tough slog.  Locked in a self-imposed tomb, stuck in the sand, while beside them stands a pyramid.  But eventually graduation day arrives, (and it may feel like four thousand years instead of four), and the college graduate sails away.

     The difficulty with the pyramid is that no one can move it.  It faces a lot of weather, a blistering hot sun, and pirates gut it of its internal treasures.  Above all else, it cannot float.  There it  stands–forever.  The fancy economic phrase for this is “delayed gratification”.

     Another thing not to be slighted.  A college student has a chance to meet the wild and crazy, the witty, the intelligent, the determined, the grand, and the truly outstanding.  They are all there.  Why would anyone pass up the chance to meet them?

     A farmer entered his mule in the Kentucky Derby.  When asked if he thought his mule had much of a chance of winning, he replied, “No, but I feel the association will do him good.”

     Despite a recent scandalous admission, Jessie Jackson used to say something of importance to his audiences, “If you’re in school, stay there.  If you’re not in school, go back.”