Uncle Edmund

I have been thinking about my multi-great Uncle Edmund tonight. Some email and article exchanges prompted me to think of him. He’s a man I met only a few times in my life. He also gave me advice that changed the course of my life.


I began college as many people do with a utilitarian mindset. What major will lead me to a good job at a good salary? I began with plans to be an engineer. By the end of my freshman year, I knew that wasn’t for me. I enjoyed finance and statistics so I turned next to the business school. I was cruising along through my sophmore year satisfied with my choice. Then, out of the blue, I received a letter from Uncle Edmund.


Uncle Edmund was a business school professor, teaching in an MBA program. Seems he heard through the family grapevine that I was in business school as an undergraduate. He was not impressed.


His letter was short and to the point. It went something like this: What are you doing? If you are going to be a professional of any note, you will have to go to graduate school. Why in the world are you pursuing a professional degree at this time in your life. You are missing your last opportunity for a liberal arts education.


Uncle Edmund’s opinion carried weight in our family. I took his advice to heart and I looked into what it would take to switch to a liberal arts major. It was the best thing I ever did. I fell in love with economics, which led me toward public policy. I took classes in South African History and learned about a part of the world I’d barely heard of before, gleaning lessons of human tenacity I still think about today. I took literature classes and Western Civilization, which gave me the opportunity to read classics I would have completely missed. I had the chance to study with a history professor who ripped my essays to shreds and motivated me to stretch myself. I entered subject areas that were far outside my comfort zone. And, for the first time in my life I experience the joy of serendipitous learning – discovering things I did not know existed.


Liberal Arts is not for everyone. And, there is a need to be a bit utilitarian when it comes to investing in college.  I understand that. And, thank goodness we have people who stick with the engineering. But, I also learned that it’s easy to get caught up on a practical track and miss out on a lot that education and the world has to offer.


I still earned a business degree. I was far enough along that with an extra semester I earned two degrees.  I also left college with with an education I never imagined was possible because it didn’t seem the sensible thing to do.


I appreciate my Uncle Edmund.


5 Responses to “Uncle Edmund”

  1. Brad Jolly Says:

    That’s a nice story, John. It’s also a good reminder of our responsibilities as uncles, fathers and other “silverback” roles that we have in our extended families.
    It probably will not surprise you to learn that I had a very different experience with my courses in the humanities and social sciences, but the details are not relevant in this context.
    Thanks again for the reminder of our responsibilities to our younger relatives.

  2. A Higgins Says:

    Nice Post!

  3. Connie Masson Says:

    I always enjoy your blog posts and your writing style. We all would be lucky to have Uncle Edmond’s in our lives, wouldn’t we? I have a daughter in college right now who was lucky enough to know what her passion was and knew what she wanted to pursue: video post production. I hope that my other two daughters are as lucky when they enter college in 2011.
    Reading your post was certainly a contrast to Karl Fisch’s recent post in The Fisch Bowl: http://thefischbowl.blogspot.com/2008/12/lets-stop-preparing-kids-for-college.html . You probably have already read it, but I thought I’d mention it, in case you haven’t. Interesting reflections.
    I still believe that a college education is a must. I know you can make it without it, but I also know from ten years of experience in college and three degrees, how much I learned from the experiences. Nothing could replace them!
    Happy Holidays!

  4. Brian Herman Says:

    I went the “more practical” route and got my engineering degree. My 3 favorite classes were NOT Electromagnetic Field Theory, Data Strucutres, nor Differential Equations.
    My favorite classes were Art History (101), Sociology (101), and Psychology (101)
    While the first 3 classes trained me how to solve problems, it was the latter 3 that taught me how to THINK. It turns out that critical thinking and appreciation of the world around me have been far more useful tools in my engineering career than my deep understanding of spanning trees and wave propagation in a vacuum.
    The value of education shouldn’t be measured by techniques mastered and rules memorized. Rather, teaching a child to think for herself should be the measure of our success.

  5. Connie Masson Says:

    Thank you John for the article you attached. Here is another one by the principal of New Vista: http://chronicle.com/free/v53/i34/34b01801.htm?ccn
    Interesting thoughts and concepts. I still believe we all need a college education – not just for learning and maturing, but also because our American system has made it that way. When surveying the want ads for decent (even less than decent) paying jobs today, it seems that 99% require a college degree. So you need one just to even be considered. Unfortunately, the “system” has made it necessary.
    I do believe that preparing all high school students to be able to enter and succeed as a freshman in college is a good way to insure that all high school graduates will be better prepared to be successful in life no matter what path they choose.
    Thanks for all that you do.

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