Lifelong Learning

My family is about to embark on seven months of graduations. My #2 granddaughter will be getting her BA in elementary education in December and is excited about being in the classroom. In May my oldest daughter will be receiving her MBA and her daughter will be graduating from College of Charleston.  In June, my oldest granddaughter will finish her certification as a pharmacy technician and her baby sister will graduate from Aiken Scholars Academy.  It seems like a good time to reflect on learning.

About 30 years ago, the provost asked me to be the speaker for Clemson’s August graduation.  Eight minutes was the allotted time.  Lifelong learning, he suggested would be a good topic.  That was like throwing the academic rabbit into the briar patch.  I could do this.  Lifelong learning is the core of being an academic and most other professions and skilled trades as well.

I started my eight minute inspirational message with a story about my middle daughter, Carla.  When she was 15, she was keen to get a driver’s license.  She passed the written test and practiced up, and she passed the road test on the first try. But, the test-giver warned her, consider this a license to learn.  Many bumps, dents, and close calls later, she was a pretty good driver.

So, I told the semi-attentive graduates in waiting, consider your diploma a license to learn.  You have demonstrated the ability to learn under the increasingly relaxed supervision of others as you progressed from first grade to college senior.  Now you are in charge of your own continuing education.  It should be both a privilege and a responsibility to continue to let your body, mind and spirit unfold and change with new experiences, challenges and opportunities. Yes, bodies.  Bodies learn to ride bicycles, to dance, to play instruments, to adapt to physical limitations, to recognize symptoms and treat them, to avoid allergens and grasp and respect one’s biorhythms and food sensitivities.  About six weeks ago I had both kinds of body learning experiences at the beach.  Yes, it had been a while since I last kayaked, but the rhythm quickly came back.  Learning to ride a three wheeled adult bike was another matter, because I had to unlearn the balancing habits of many decades riding a regular bike.

The spirit learns to be present, to be mindful, to connect and relate and care and be cared for, to be at home in the universe. Mind learning will take familiar forms—workshops, continuing education additional degrees, short courses that pique your curiosity, reading. I am partial to the Great Courses, continuing education classes, and documentaries. I Of the three aspects of learning, mind is the one to which I gravitate.

All three, body, mind, and spirit, learn from both formal instruction and experience.  My exercise class has helped me identify what muscles I am using and how to care for them.  My faith community has attuned me to the care for the spirit in many ways, and my mind always enjoys the stimulus of travel, good conversation, and a good novel.

As the years go on you may find yourself becoming a teacher, which is good, because one of the ways we learn is by teaching.  I never felt a fully mastered a skill or a concept unless I could successfully teach it to someone else. Like learning, teaching takes place in many settings and forms.  Parents, youth leaders, coaches and extended family members do a lot of informal teaching of skills, values, and ideas.

Some things get harder to learn as one ages.  Technology is one.  Foreign languages are another. But with age also comes a special result of all that learning, a certain amount of wisdom that comes from decades of making mistakes and learning not to repeat them, of listening and observing and processing. Sometimes we can share wisdom to leap over some obstacles in the wisdom process.  Other times we have to let our friends and loved ones acquire their wisdom from their own painful but growing learning experiences and just be there to offer caring and comfort when it happens.

So whatever learning challenges and teaching opportunities may like before you, as Yoda would say, may the force be with you.  May the journey be just challenging enough to help you grow in wisdom but not so challenging that you give up in despair.  May there be joy in the continuing search for truth and meaning both alone and together.

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