Staying With a Dream

for the week of June 10, 2002
by Rubel Shelly

Congratulations to all the graduates of the Class of 2002 whether high school, undergraduate, or graduate/professional school. I will confess, however, that I am especially touched by those people who have set noble educational goals, had their objectives delayed, and then returned to carry through on them.

One person whose story I read in the Los Angeles Times on a day I was visiting there recently jumped out and grabbed me. This particular fellow had enrolled at Cal State Long Beach 37 years ago only to leave three years later, just shy of having his B.A. finished. So 34 years after dropping out and 37 years after enrolling, he was sitting among some 500 graduates and finally received his degree in film/video production.

Yes, he had to take time out of an adult life and established career to rejoin the ranks of lowly college undergraduates. Yes, he had to write reports and term papers. Yes, he had to take exams during his final two semesters.

He had contacted the university about 18 months earlier about the possibility of completing his degree. It really wasn't a career-enhancing or financial thing. There appear to have been three motivations driving the 55-year-old graduate.

First, he wanted to honor his parents and their dreams for him. "I wanted to accomplish this for many years as a thank you to my parents for giving me the opportunity for an education and a career," he said.

Second, he hoped his carry-through on an unfinished task would say something to his children. He spoke of it as "a personal note for my own family" on "the importance of achieving their college education goals."

Third, the theme of making good on his own expectations of himself seemed to run through the effort. I really like that! Too many of us have abandoned educational, career, or personal spiritual goals because of detours along the way only to feel a bit empty, if not terribly guilty, about not picking them up later.

I wish I could have been there for his walk across the stage in a $40 rented cap and gown. At one level, it must have been a humbling thing for him. You see, he already has three Oscars and several Emmys, Golden Globes, and lifetime achievement awards in filmmaking. He's even got five honorary doctorates the most recent one from Yale about two weeks before his Cal State Long Beach graduation.

At another level, though, it must have been one of the proudest moments in his life. He finished a worthwhile task. He achieved a goal set years before. He got the satisfaction of finishing what he had started.

Congratulations, Steven Spielberg! And thanks for the wonderful example.

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