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Steve Hansen: Earning an education was better than being given one


Call me cruel if you like, but I really don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who expect others to pay for their college educations.

Now, some may think I’m hypocritical because my first four years were paid in full. You see, my parents were true believers in higher education and were willing to sacrifice their lifestyles just to help their kids take full advantage of all available opportunities.

Problem was, I wasn’t the one making the sacrifice. I saw myself as “entitled.” After all, if “The Old Man” or some government program wanted to pay my way, I certainly was willing to take advantage of it. But the results of this attitude showed in academic performance.

I coasted through college and rarely opened a book. “Cramming” the night before a test was my typical study pattern. I majored in music but had not considered the limited occupational opportunities available for this subject. When graduation came, my GPA was nothing to celebrate.

After a short stint in the Army, I soon got a job teaching middle school physical education in a rural area. But standing in a field on a cold, foggy day, while watching kids run around a make-believe track, was not the way I wanted to spend the next 35 years. For a more stimulating future, a postgraduate degree was a must.

I approached my father about returning to school for a master’s degree in psychology. He approved of the idea and was more than willing to pay the tuition. But during the conversation, something changed my attitude. I knew this time, things would have to be different. Consequently, his generous offer was turned down.

Instead, I prepared to handle this goal completely own my own. I was single at the time and made sure there were no obligations other than focusing on the task at hand.

Because of my former C-plus grade average, most graduate schools weren’t interested unless a high score could be earned on the Graduate Record Examination. To make up for past sins, I studied day and night. The result was a placement in the 90th percentile.

My lifestyle changed from a modern apartment to a rundown old house shared with a wannabe musician, a farmworker and a widow. My car went from a late-model Corvette to a 12-year-old Dodge pickup with over 200,000 miles.

I worked to support myself and attended classes mostly at night. Along the way, I paid my expensive private university tuition. The 60 semester unit program took longer than the normal two-year average.

But this time, the results were quite different. I graduated with straight As, except for one B. Interestingly enough, that one grade did not appear on my transcript. When I approached my professor about getting it fixed, he couldn’t remember what grade he had given me. Although I could have “misled” and created a perfect record, the truth was told. This was going to be an honest endeavor from beginning to end.

I had done so well in the program that the university asked me to join their faculty part-time. I taught a variety of graduate courses for the next four years.

So, in the final analysis, was taking the hard way over the easy way worth it? For me, absolutely! The self-esteem and pride earned were irreplaceable. There was no motivator equal to earning every step of the way and making every minute count toward a successful goal.

The quest made me realize that the time had come to stop mooching off the labors of others. It was a real “growing up” experience that has never been regretted.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.