Paused in the twilight zone, it’s about the living not the learning

BethCooperHowelMY SOAPBOX is education. It should be free, fun and available to all, no matter how many E symbols blot your past reports.

My reason, though, is not because you should ‘‘get an education’’. Despite what the world says, life is the best teacher – not a stiff certificate from a tertiary institute confirming that you paid and passed.

Drifting through some memorabilia this week, I dug out my old scrapbook from Rhodes University. It’s a funny thing; there’s no record of lectures, notes, exam symbols or even an acknowledgement of my degree. My A3-sized ode to me is all about us: the people who shared what was to become the best couple of years I’d spent anywhere.

Belinda and Morag from Zimbabwe – immortalised in photos taken during coffee breaks in my res room. I learned more about politics, culture and Africa from them than I ever did from history books or, more recently, uncle Google.

Or Anneleigh from the Free State. Beautiful, gracious, smart Anneleigh – former ballet dancer, perennial A student, sensitive poet and, though we didn’t know it yet, a future career star as one of South Africa’s most talented brand managers.

I don’t know where Cidalia is. She was a dark haired, level-headed psych student of Portuguese descent. Fiercely loyal, made fabulous coffee. Lana’s in Oz now and just as monumentally artistic as she was then. Most phenomenal Fine Arts student ever – and damn nice. Wouldn’t harm a fly.

I met my best friend at varsity. Our paths have diverged and melted together over and over, but we’re still the red-head and the Jewish girl who bumped into each other on the stairs, first year. We made each other feel we’d come home, away from home. We still feel that way, a billion hours later. My husband ditched his degree a few months in. He’s the smartest man I know and terribly good at what he does. Now he feels an itch to study. I get it – though he doesn’t realise that it’s not about the learning, but the living.

When you’re in the twilight zone between school and work, there’s a magic pause that shields you from the things in life that will eventually erode innocence and punish ignorance. Before you have to get up, go to work and make a pay cheque stretch, you’re a young and vibrant whippet without the trappings that force you to grow up.

And that’s the reason why we should do as they ask by passing matric, choosing a field and registering for a degree, a diploma, a certificate – anything, absolutely anything, to have that experience.

Because some of us will wield our graduation certificates like magic wands, getting paid more because of it, while others tuck away their science degrees and become landscape artists instead. Even med students, once they’ve seen enough patients, will think back not on anatomy, but on the people they met and the music they heard and the causes they believed in.

A little learning is a wonderful thing – but the best bits about it are free.

And you shouldn’t have to pay for that privilege.

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