Never Too Late

In these weary days of bleak news, I’m always glad to find a bit of cheer.  A friend recently shared the story of Giuseppe Paternò from The Guardian.  Paternò is a 96-year-old first time college graduate.  As the story explains Paternò had wanted to attend college his entire life but being raised in poverty he never had the opportunity.  We all know how life is a rushing river that snatches you in its current, and thus Paternò found himself unable to attain his dream.  Until his nineties.  Just this year he graduated from the University of Palermo.  What really spoke to me about this story is that Paternò is now considering working on his master’s degree.  While some might wonder if this is practical, to me it demonstrates that knowledge is never wasted.

We live in an era where education is seen as either a useless luxury or as just another business.  Both views are fatal to our civilization.  We have reached where we are by progressively educating our young (and old) so that our collective knowledge-base grows.  When education is seen as a business (and I saw this in my ill-fated university teaching career) it becomes something different.  This isn’t on the part of the faculty, for the most part, but on administrations.  Paying corporate-level salaries to administrators—schools top-heavy with deans—they can’t afford to hire faculty and cut departments that aren’t profitable.  Knowledge, in turn, suffers.  Paternò, I sincerely hope, avoided the politics of academia.  A man hungry for knowledge, he studied philosophy at an age when most of us think people should just sit around and stare at the walls all day.  Knowledge should never be wasted.

Those of us who’ve been excluded from the academy sometimes try to continue our contribution.  Some of us still write books and articles.  It does nothing for our promotion or tenure.  It certainly doesn’t bear much in royalties.  “Why do it?” a friend once asked me.  When we cease seeking knowledge we stagnate and die.  We see this playing out in the politics of our day.  Washington houses many who see education as a threat to the unrestrained acquisition of mere money.  This is why universities suffer—they are not businesses.  One size does not fit all.  At their best they’re places where those of us raised in poverty can go to have our eyes opened.  And they are places where even nonagenarians can go to contribute to the growth of knowledge.

2 thoughts on “Never Too Late

  1. Hi Steve,

    I started university at 36, some time ago now. At that time, in religion and theology, there were a handful of men and women much older than myself, studying as well. A good number of them went on the successful ministry jobs in the Anglican faith structure.

    Classes were fun with the two ended study streams. The one stream – the very young and green, and the other – the much older, more mature elder stream, which I counted myself part of. My academic adviser, who was teaching in the religion stream went on to become an Anglican priest and was ordained after I left the system.

    Now I was sober during this whole education event, so I was not susceptible to the EGO trap. Sober people try not to grow their ego’s on purpose, it isn’t very good looking nor appealing.

    But I watched it happen. As a gay man in the Religion/Theology streams, my more conservative classmates often pointed out that a gay man, such as myself, should not consider studying religion and theology. They thought I was barking up the wrong religious tree, and told me so on many occasions.

    The summer I graduated from Religion, i had been accepted into the Theology Masters Degree Program. I mean they bent over backwards and promised me the moon, and then some to come over to their side. I had accepted.

    It’s what happened over that summer that floored me. Nobody sent me the Master’s of the Universe Memo, or the BLOW your ego up memo either.

    The first night i walked into class, I was the outsider. Nobody even acknowledged that I had been sitting in the same classroom all night. But everybody else was slapping each other on the backs and congratulating each other on becoming a Master of the Universe.

    Everyone except me.

    I knew I was done for. But I stuck it out anyways. But you know the Master’s death knell, right?
    The 2 C rule …

    I had one Theology class that I just could not wow my adviser. he kept throwing back papers I wrote and rewrote several times, to no avail. After a shit load of promises of the moon from him directly, he gave me my 2 C’s.

    The next day they slammed the door in my face and told me to get out without a further word.

    My education run was over. it was a waste of time to be honest. 12 years of study for what, 2 diplomas. that are collecting DUST in a book shelf in my bedroom.

    I hope our elder who finished his studies did not get treated so summarily.



    • I’m sorry your Master’s experience was so bad, Jeremy. There’s no doubt that the Master’s program is the “teen years” of higher education, complete with cliques and everything. My bad guy professor was the New Testament prof. Throughout my career I’ve always noticed how NT profs tend to be surlier than those that teach Hebrew Bible. I wonder what happened to Jesus?


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