Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Damian Paradox

My (career) life is pretty much dedicated to education.  I love it.  Love reading about it, thinking about it, talking about it, debating about it.  My hope is that when my time comes to retire that I'll look back and feel satisfied with the contributions I made towards education, the positive effect I had on lives (students and colleagues), and the small but significant change I impacted upon the system.  But that may not happen because of The Damian Paradox.

Damian is one of my best buddies.  I've known him since sixth grade, when he moved to our neighborhood.  Damian is by all measures, and this is genuinely unbiased, successful.  He has spent the past ten or so years in the life insurance industry and while I don't know the specifics of the amount of money he has made I do know that he spends a great deal of his time at the golf course.  But of course money isn't what defines successful.  Damian is active in politics and once said to me that he would love to spend his time backing a candidate that he truly believes in.  He is knowledgeable on MANY subjects and would be comfortable at a table with economists, politicians, educators, lawyers, businessmen, and many others.  Every time we talk he's telling me about a new book he's read, and the books are rarely fiction.  He's athletic, curious, inquisitive, intelligent, and reflective.  He's also not a high school or college graduate.

As I mentioned we met in sixth grade but it wasn't until tenth grade that I knew he was smarter than me.  Our World History teacher was having a finals cram session and a bunch of us were packed into a classroom one day after school.  99% of us were furiously scribbling notes as the teacher was reviewing what would be on the test.  The 1% was Damian.  He was sitting in the back row, slouched in his desk with no pen or paper, answering every question and recalling every pertinent fact.

Damian played two seasons of football at a local junior college and transferred to a small 4-year college to finish off his career.  In a weird twist of events I ended up playing the last season of my college football career with him at his school.  We were roommates during that season and to say that he skipped class a lot is like saying LeBron James is somewhat athletic.  One day he showed up in the dining commons with a backpack on...I just started laughing.  The backpack was empty.  He said that he was wearing it because he wanted to be like the other students.  He finished his time at the school without graduating.

Yet since "finishing" college he has coached college football, passed his Series 7 exam (licensing him to buy and sell securities), gotten married, purchased a fabulous home, joined a prestigious country club, traveled the world, earned an incredible living, and is one of the best examples I've seen of a "lifelong learner."  He's also got great perspective.  Upon seeing Damian in a top-of-the-line Mercedes one of our friends (who is in the Navy) commented, "Someone is doing well."  Damian's reply, "Yeah, but I don't have lifetime health benefits."

Once again, by all measures Damian is doing well.  VERY well.  But school, as typically defined, did not do this for him.  He didn't graduate high school or college.  His G.P.A. in both was subpar.  So why and how is he so successful?  And is he truly a paradox or could we all achieve what we've achieved without fulfilling the requirements to graduate high school and/or college?  And if we could, what does that say for my dedication to education?

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