The academic inspiration you didn’t know you needed

Shutterstock.com/ Diego Cervo

Some people take the ability to learn for granted. We start school before we really have an independent mind and we are in that system for years before we really understand what it is and why we do it. School is part of life for many young people and most take it for granted. We go home, throw our bag on the floor and complain about the day we had. We fake sickness just to escape the boredom of another day at school and many can not wait for the day it will all be over. Yet the opportunity to learn is a gift and one man has shown that with his recent endeavors.

People who go to university don’t often do it to learn. They do it to get a piece of paper that says they have learned. To potential employers, that piece of paper is often worth more than what they learn too. Depending on the course but in many cases it simply shows that they are smart, they have the ability to focus and they are reliable. These students know that passing or a good grade is all that matters. However, the actual act of learning something in itself is an incredible gift. The sharing of information, the exchange of ideas is an incredible act that students get to take part in for a number of years when at university and a few take advantage of it.

One man named Jerry Valencia understands the gift that is learning. It is not the piece of paper that matters or the job that he can get as a result, it is the simple act of learning that he cares about. Jerry is 63 years old and is halfway through a college degree. He has had a tough life, almost been homeless a number of times, and struggled through a series of unfortunate events. His sister gave him a mobile home so that he at least had a place to stay. Since then Jerry has worked mostly in construction to try to make ends meet. At 63 it is likely that he will struggle to find many more opportunities in this area. 

Yet he is making it work. He works where he can, when he can and when he saves up enough money he uses it to pay for college courses to complete the degree he is working towards. It took him twelve years to get through community college, not because he failed exams but because he needed to stop and restart when he had sufficient funds. His aim to get a master’s degree before he finally finishes. On his current timeline, this may take him until he is ninety years old. 

That means that by the time he has the master’s degree it will be of little use to him anymore. But he doesn’t care. The paper will be an acknowledgment of his hard work and a source of pride but the real gift will be the things he will have learned over that time and the conversations he has had.

Recently Jerry lost his job and was unable to pay for his coursework. He bumped into a professor one day who told Jerry that he could not give him credits for the course but that he was welcome to still attend. Since then Jerry has taken part in every class, every exam and every project. He has attended each class with a smile on his face and engaged at a level that most students never attempt to. 

In many ways, Jerry is giving a wake-up call to anyone who meets him. If you are lucky enough to have the time, money, and opportunity to attend a university and study, enjoy it. Savor it. For who knows how long it will be until you are in the real world and wishing you were back.