Classes in Life (by Billy Coffey)

Classes have begun in earnest at the college where I work. The serenity that was summer is now long forgotten, replaced by the franticness of fall. Hundreds of fresh and not-so-fresh faces are about, crowding classrooms and sidewalks in a symphony of chaos. Some of these faces are cool and collected, veterans of higher education. Others have the look of a lost child in a busy shopping mall—freshmen.

College is getting to be a more and more important part of life. Whereas folks my age could make a decent living with nothing more than a high school diploma, that’s not the case now. The world is changing. It’s bigger and more complex then when I was a teenager, and it’s easy to get turned around and never find your way.

Which is why all of these students are here—to find their way.

And I can think of fewer places better suited for such an endeavor. The college here offers dozens of majors and minors and three graduate programs. The professors are brilliant and products of some of the finest universities in the world. The administration is dedicated and professional. Both work together to ensure that each student receives the necessary knowledge in his or her declared discipline to find success in the world.

Last week I spoke with Emily, a young lady who had done just that—found success. It wasn’t long ago when she walked across the lawn just down from where I’m sitting now, fetched her diploma from the President of the college, and said hello to the real world. It was an easy introduction. She’d already fielded several job offers and one marriage proposal.

Life was good. No, better than good. Easy.

Now, two years later, Emily knows better. Her job is steady, but also stressful and demanding. And the marriage proposal she accepted was rescinded one year and one child later, leaving her a single mom.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “Life is still good. It’s just not that easy.”

I understood. College can’t get you ready for everything.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it could, though? If college could not only give you theories and laws, but training for life’s hiccups as well? Yes. Now then we’d have something.

I’m not privy to decisions concerning curriculum and how much of what must be taught. I’m simply an underling, paid not to form policy but to make sure the day-to-day runs smoothly. I have no fancy initials under my name, no suit and tie, and the only piece of paper framed on my wall is a movie poster from Tombstone.

But what I lack in formal education I more than make up for in experience, which just so happens to be a fine instructor as well. And while the students I see throughout the day are getting much in the way of preparation for the workplace, I think improvements could be made in the way of preparation for life.

Classes like Applied Mathematics, General Physics II, and Mass Media Law and Ethics are fine in themselves. They do seem to be pretty specific, though. How about some classes that offer both a broader appeal and a more practical application?

Maybe something like Bearing Hardship 101, for instance. Because sooner or later every student here will have to do that.

Developing Patience would be another good one. Also a class I would gladly pay to attend.

Holding Onto Hope should be a requirement for all graduating seniors, if only because hope seems to be so easily snatched away nowadays.

Cleaning Child Vomit 350? A must for the future parent. Being Thankful 400 would be just what people need to keep a little perspective. And let’s not forget Living Well and Dying Better 750.

Like all the other classes offered here, there would be lectures and papers and finals. But I’m thinking the class attendance would be greater. And I’m thinking the grades would matter more, too.

Of course, it’s doubtful any of this would ever happen. On most college campuses knowledge will always trump experience. But maybe that’s just as well. Classes like those probably wouldn’t work anyway. Most of what happens in life you just can’t be prepared for, no matter how much studying you do. Just ask Emily, who now knows that the world might indeed be a classroom, but it’s the sort of classroom where often the tests come first and the lessons come later.


To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at What I Learned Today and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.

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22 Responses to “Classes in Life (by Billy Coffey)”

  1. Shark Bait October 5, 2009 at 3:37 am #

    >"Nothing worth learning can ever be taught." – Oscar Wilde

  2. Linda Yezak October 5, 2009 at 8:03 am #

    >I have so enjoyed the posts you two put up. I'm glad I found y'all on Twitter.


  3. Beth October 5, 2009 at 8:49 am #

    >Those are some much needed classes! Where do I sign up?

    I come from a very academic family…my B.A. and I are on the lowest spot on the education totem pole in my immediate family…BUT, what I have always appreciated about them is that they don't stay holed up in the academic world. Their hearts have always been moved to befriend those of all types of educational backgrounds. And the older I get, the more I realize that Experience is an excellent teacher!

  4. Helen October 5, 2009 at 9:01 am #

    >Billy, your post brought back a wonderful memory of my dad. I hope you don't mind, but I posted that memory on my blog today. Thanks. I really enjoyed remembering…

    Shameless Self Promotion on My Part…

  5. katdish October 5, 2009 at 9:09 am #


    You know all shameless self promotion is welcome here! I love that story.

  6. Heather of the EO October 5, 2009 at 10:06 am #

    >I think about this a lot. There's so much from college that DOES NOT apply to my life. Sure, I remember some important things…but…

    I was a social worker before I stayed at home with the boys. I worked with people with mental illness. Do you think I could pull something from my memory, from a textbook when dealing with a someone going through a bout of mania or a paranoid episode? nope. It all depended on each individual. And I hadn't read any books specific to each person. I had to learn as I went.

    Anyway, just another example, I guess. Of DEFINITELY being tested before the lesson. I've got good stories 🙂

  7. Annie K October 5, 2009 at 10:46 am #

    >Billy, what about Common Sense 101? Oh, right…can't teach that.

  8. Andrea October 5, 2009 at 11:25 am #

    >Great post. I came over from Billy's blog. Hope to get to know you better.
    Blessings, andrea

  9. Anne L.B. October 5, 2009 at 11:45 am #

    >Shark Bait, I'd never pick a fight with a sweet little fish, and I do like Oscar Wilde. But I take issue with that quote. There's only so many mistakes a person can make to learn from experience. We've got to be humble enough to be taught.

  10. ~*Michelle*~ October 5, 2009 at 12:09 pm #

    >I would totally ace the Cleaning Child Vomit course, but pretty sure I might not even meet the prerequisite to the Developing Patience course.

  11. FaithBarista Bonnie October 5, 2009 at 12:50 pm #

    >Gosh, you are so darn creative! Stop it, will ya'? 😉

    I wish I enrolled in "Bearing
    Hardship 101".. Gosh, I sure was THE consummate freshman (snort).

    And dude, why didn't anyone offer me "Cleaning child Vomit 350". Would've come in handy. All I took was, "Having a Baby Is Wonderful 68".

    Geez, Louise!

    Your blog is a great way to take these great courses, Billy. Thank you!

  12. Bridget Chumbley October 5, 2009 at 1:13 pm #

    >My mom always told me about the college of hard knocks…I think this is the one most of us attend whether we 'enroll' or not!

    Great post, Billy. I'd like to skip the Child Vomit 350 course…had plenty of hands on experience!

  13. jasonS October 5, 2009 at 1:22 pm #

    >I think a lot of these courses are available if you're paying attention. Sure, you can't sign up for them at a University, but we can learn them in church, on blogs, through books, our parents, friends, etc. Of course, it doesn't really mean much until they are applied…

  14. Steph @Red Clay Diaries October 5, 2009 at 3:19 pm #

    >A framed poster from the movie Tombstone? I'm your huckleberrry.

    Those are some great class suggestions. But they'd have to be labs. Not the kinds of things you can really learn in a classroom.

  15. nAncY October 5, 2009 at 4:04 pm #

    >love that last line 😉

  16. Joanne Sher October 5, 2009 at 5:03 pm #

    >That last line is FABULOUS, Billy – I'm tweeting it (with a link to the article of course). Wow.

  17. Peter P October 5, 2009 at 6:39 pm #

    >I never went to college… I wish I did though.

    I'd like a class in how to close before the next show in your queue starts or maybe how to clean the house to my wifes satisfaction.

    Are those classes available where you work?

  18. Denise October 5, 2009 at 9:13 pm #

    >You are so wise.

  19. Doug Spurling October 5, 2009 at 9:21 pm #

    >In life…"tests come first and the lessons come later."

    that is a classic, wish I'd of thought to write it – I just lived it.

    Thank again Billy.

  20. The Things We Carried October 6, 2009 at 12:00 am #

    >Life is the best teacher I know. Sorrow can bring compassion. Endurance patience. And so it goes. It is the opposite of what we would choose that actually can teach us if we will let it.

  21. The Things We Carried October 6, 2009 at 12:01 am #

    >PS I liked the list you did!

  22. Susan Berlien (warmchocmilk) October 7, 2009 at 1:56 pm #

    >I agree college doesn't quite cut it for life preparation. But what does? other than living? Nothing unfortunatly…one day at a time we forge ahead.

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