Posted by: thediygeochemist | June 28, 2010

advice to a graduate

Al not only graduated from community college this week, but also officially from our homeschool. We had a little ceremony to present his diploma. Here was my speech for the occasion:

* * *

In a few minutes we will hand you a diploma which declares you officially done with homeschool. But will you really be done?

You see, in the fifteen or so years that I was the primary teacher of our homeschool, I learned that homeschooling isn’t just for kids; It’s for everyone. And so I would like to share a few lessons that I hope you will take from our homeschool adventure into your adult life.

First, the most obvious: your ability to learn does not rely on a formal institution. In fact, the opposite is true: no institution can force learning into your head.

As first a tutor, then a TA, I’ve heard many students say, “If so-and-so were only a better teacher, I would be able to understand the material.” This is the wrong attitude.

Instead, I suggest an approach given to me about ten years ago. If a lesson seems boring or seems to make no sense, spend the time thinking about how you would teach it. Trying to explain concepts to a classmate will help you learn the material better than you would while sitting passively. Learning is an active occupation.

And you definitely learned that in homeschool. You learned fractions on paper but you also learned them by doubling recipes. You listened to me read about history and then you got out your toy troops and reenacted battles between the Greeks and the Persians.

And so my advice to you is to jump in to whatever you are learning with both feet. Don’t hold back. Plutarch said, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” If one of your professors in the future should not succeed in kindling the fire of desire to learn within you, kindle it in yourself. You are always in control of your own education.

Secondly, learning should be a constant process. When we talk of homeschooling, you probably think of all the time you spent sprawled on the floor with a math book, of hours plowing through classic literature, or of muttering in frustration as you sweated to finish a dreaded essay.

But the part of homeschooling I loved most was the informal learning. Like the time nine years ago when we were driving somewhere in the car when you asked me, “What color do you think the baby’s eyes will be?” And you and Nate and I got into a detailed discussion of genetics that most people would not have thought a nine-year-old and a six-year-old could handle.

I encourage you to look for opportunities to learn at all times, in all places, from all people. Always be on the lookout for chances to learn “of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad…”

Third: there are many kinds of learning that count in this world, so don’t limit your learning to traditional school subjects. This is definitely something your father and I tried to work into our homeschool. It makes me proud to know that you’re leaving the high school years not only knowing history and science and math, but also baking and first aid and roofing and investing.

And so I advise you to go on to college to learn about engineering or whatever you choose to major in, but also to continue to develop your non-academic talents. Learn car repair and plumbing and electrical and the best way to pack a van full of Scouts and camping gear. Learn how to console the grieving, how to bring hope to the hopeless, and how to inspire a group of apathetic coworkers to produce a fantastic collaborative project. These are not the sorts of skills that you will ever be graded on, but they will help you go far in life.

Fourth, remember that you should never do things just because they are traditional. Many traditions have valid reasons behind their existence, but not all do. Take, for example, a tradition of hate between two countries, a tradition of mistreating family members, or a tradition of rioting after a World Cup victory. None of these are uplifting traditions.

Of course, most traditions are more uplifting than these, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the best way to do things. For example, I’m sure that as you approached age 5 some of your relatives expected your parents to follow the tradition of sending you to kindergarten.

But how well would you have done there? By age 5 you were already reading on a 3rd or 4th grade level. Kindergarten would have bored you. Even worse, from the day you were born you loved to MOVE. I have distinct memories of teaching you to read: you’d read a sentence from the first grade reader, run to the opposite side of the room and back, then read the next sentence. Later you learned your multiplication facts while jumping on the couch. Somehow I doubt this behavior would have been as well tolerated in public school as it was in our home.

How do you translate this into future behavior? Simple: evaluate everything, and see if you can improve upon traditions. Remember, if we always did things the way they were done in the good old days, technology would never advance.

Finally, the most important lesson of all: the best lessons of all are learned at home, because nowhere can you learn in a place where you are so loved. Remember this, and come back home to visit even when you are far away. Remember this, and prepare yourself so that you can establish a home of your own one day: a home where you and your wife can teach your children in love.

As you move on into adulthood, remember these lessons: you are in control of your education; learning is a constant process; all learning is good; don’t do things just because they’re tradition; and the most important lessons are learned at home. May God bless you.


  1. Wow!
    I just found your blog. I love it.

  2. […] June: My eldest son, Al, graduated from community college. […]

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