Newspaper series proves grades not always sign of success

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

“I never let schooling interfere with my education.”

— Mark Twain

Samuel Langhorne Clemens probably never uttered the above quote attributed to him, more than likely it was contemporary novelist Grant Allen. There is some wisdom in the sentiment, however, especially when it comes to the kind of education that leads to success in life.

Education is an important part of the equation, of course, but opportunity and the willingness to accept risk have to be figured in as well.

Lack of opportunity probably played an important role in shaping the results of a Boston Globe series that traced the success of 93 of the 113 Boston Public School valedictorians who graduated from 2005 to 2007.

As it turns out, 40 percent make less than $50,000 a year and one in four failed to get a bachelor’s degree in six years. While a quarter of them aspired to be doctors, not one has a medical degree, and four of the former students have been homeless.

At this point in the argument, it’s tempting to list the billionaires who also never achieved bachelor’s degrees, like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg — even Clarks, Neb., native Evan Williams, who dropped out of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln after three semesters, going on to co-found Twitter and amass a $1.7 billion fortune.

To be fair, however, the list is mostly populated by those who had the computer skills to capitalize on the opportunity presented by a technological explosion we’re unlikely to ever see again.

Most of them are, however, people who were willing to divert from the “safe” path and fully commit to a new, unexplored, risky direction in life.

For today’s valedictorians to be successful, they need to somehow be imbued with the self-confidence to take a risk to commit to promising, untried opportunities in a society with economic conditions that encourage individual initiative.

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