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It’s not what you learn but how you learn

There was a day when I could recite the quadratic formula faster than I could my own telephone number — and that was when I only had one phone, a land line, I might add.

When I graduated high school, I knew how to perform an acid-base titration in the lab, I could recite soliloquies from Shakespeare and I could recall major dates in American history.

You might say I was a model high school student. I was the salutatorian of my class, and yet I didn’t know how to boil an egg or sew on a button.

I was reminded of this Thursday morning as I was packing for a weekend trip.

Reaching for clothes, I noticed a button missing on one of my shirts. Had it not been one of my favorites, I would have probably left the shirt to hang in the closet. I might even have discarded it to the family rags pile.

Instead, I pulled the shirt off the hanger and proceeded to look for all of the necessary tools to perform this delicate surgery.

Since moving away from my parents 26 years ago, I have only sewn a button maybe four or five times. Thursday’s procedure went more smoothly than the first time when I had to make several trips to the store for needles, thread and band-aids. I received several blood tests that day.

Thankfully I have learned a few things since then. Had I been graded, I still would have received low marks for technique Thursday morning. Still, it took minutes instead of hours to complete.

May is the month when high school seniors look forward to walking down the aisle with that piece of paper that announces to the world that they know something.

When I walked out of my school’s cafetorium in my light blue cap and gown, I thought I knew where I was headed and was convinced that the quadratic equation and Shakespeare would get me there.

Five years of college and two decades later, I realize how much book knowledge and how little life knowledge I had at the time.

I was prepared for college classes, but not life away from home.

Typing this column on a laptop computer, I realize how foolish I was in 10th grade when I opted to take an elective over typing 101. Of course, tell that to the bright-eyed, goofy whiz kid who was headed out of Carrollton, Ala., ready to shake up the college world.

How ironic it is that I now type for a living and the last time I tried to recite the quadratic formula was as an answer to a trivia question.

For the record, I did not answer correctly that night.

Thankfully, there was one life lesson I did learn from my high school days. It was probably the most important lesson I have ever learned — I learned how to keep learning.

That sense of wonder and eagerness to keep struggling and discovering that my teachers taught remains long after the facts and figures have faded away.

In many ways, it still keeps life interesting and gives me the confidence to tackle even the most difficult of tasks, like sewing a button on a shirt.

It is my hope that this year’s graduates will remember that it’s not what you learn but how you learn that makes all the difference.

 

Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.

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