I work at a university now, here in the second act of my professional life. And every morning, when I get out of my car and walk across our tranquil, oak-shaded campus, I never fail to wonder how I won whatever crazy lottery rules the cosmos.
First I got to be a sportswriter for parts of five decades, covering Super Bowls and Final Fours and a million high school football and basketball games that got at the essence of things more than the big stuff ever could. Now I get to work at Manchester University in northeast Indiana, a small liberal arts school where the passion for learning, and its application toward making the world a better place, is not just a rote homily. It's a mission.
"The world needs more Manchester graduates," our president, Dave McFadden, is fond of saying. And he ain't just whistlin' Dixie.
He'll likely say it again on May 20, when the class of 2017 turns its tassels. Among them will be a lot of young people I've talked to in my job as a marketing writer, and a lot I haven't. And to the usual suspects who rant (as they have since time immemorial) that These Kids Today are self-absorbed "snowflakes" who've had everything handed to them and are soft as Charmin, I can only say this: I haven't met any of those yet.
Instead, I've met a lot of committed young people who are far more engaged than I ever was in college, and who share a curiosity about the world and how they can make difference in it. In other words, I've met a lot of kids like Nigel Hayes.
You might have heard the name. He's a Division I basketball player at the University of Wisconsin, but that description sells him short. He's also a student. And as flawed as the model is for D-I athletes -- as much as we like to sneer at the term "student-athlete," because too often not even the people who call them that regard them as such -- sometimes it fits exactly right. Sometimes, in spite of itself, the system actually works.
Kids go to school. They play sports (and, yes, are exploited like crazy by the corporate entity that is big-time college athletics). And they get themselves educated.
They go to class. They learn to question, to think critically, to develop an abiding curiosity about the world and their place in it. And, after four years, they leave as fully developed grownups who've discovered their own true selves.
Read this. And tell me that's not what's happened to Nigel Hayes.
"My challenge to the class of 2017 is this," he writes at the end. "Never accept it when someone says, 'Just shut up and play.' Or whatever the equivalent is in your field.
"Don't accept it when they say, 'Stay in your lane.'
"Let’s use all possible lanes. Let’s create new lanes. Each of us is more than just the job we do for a few hours a day.
"Whether we play basketball or not."
I don't know about you. But it sounds to me like that kid's learned a few things.