There are many aspects of my “education” in various aspects of my life that could charitably be defined as “miseducation,” enough to possibly fill an entire book if I ever have enough spirits to write one or someone who would be interested in reading or (even better) publishing it, but today I would like to speak about my experiences with higher education in some detail, enough detail that perhaps someone else who is wiser and better informed may make fewer mistakes than I did. If my folly may help lead others to wisdom, then perhaps at least some of my pain and suffering in life will not be in vain.
As a child growing up in rural Central Florida, I knew very early on that as a bookish and rather shy child who was out of place in a blue collar family that my ambitions for an honorable and reasonably successful life would probably require higher education. The roads out of Plant City for a poor kid were not many–I was not remotely athletic enough to succeed that way and I was not well-connected to any of the more famous or illustrious families, and I have never considered myself particularly well-suited for manual labor nor have I ever shown extreme aptitutde in sales and marketing, and so I sought (as I often do) to turn my strengths into better opportunities rather than put myself in endless situations where I am playing to my weaknesses. Having devoured books from the tender age of three, I knew that academic study was a definite strength of mine and I was never deterred by having to do much reading (and writing).
As a high school student I went to the International Bacchalaurate Program at C. Leon King High School in Tampa, Florida (where I graduated with an IB diploma in 1999). I chose that particular program because I wanted a way out of Tampa and I figured the best way out would be with a higher education. Looking back on it, I really wish I had felt more comfortable in Tampa. A great deal of my wandering throughout life has been in search of opportunities, and feeling welcomed and accepted in all aspects of my life (work, personal life, and so on) has been (to put it very mildly) a challenge, a challenge that already drastically affected my life as a high schooler. Had I felt more comfortable and respected at home, I would probably have felt no need to wander so far so young, and I would probably be a much different person than I am today, perhaps for better and for worse. Being a motivated student, I studied hard, worked hard, got good grades, and took 7 AP courses (and I would have taken more if I could have done so).
When it came time to choose a college I had a wide variety of motivations. Among them was getting far away from Tampa, not because I had anything against the area itself or my friends there, but rather because I did not feel respected and cared for there. I also wanted to have as little college debt as possible, as I recognized that having a great deal of debt would not be an enjoyable way to spend life, something I had a vague premonition of as a teenager and bitter experience of as a young adult. I was wise to have such concerns, but not wise enough about my own interests and abilities or what opportunities existed to make the wisest decisions for my own future. Few young people have such knowledge, though. In my case, the general lack of higher education among my immediate family members made the situation even more difficult. I could have used a good mentor at that time.
After a lengthy process in which hundreds of colleges literally drowned me in mail seeking me to attend their universities, about the only time in my life where I have ever thought of myself as particularly popular, I made the decision to attend the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. I was accepted both as a civil engineering and a business management student (I ended up majoring in civil (structural) engineering and adding a history minor, which ended up giving me the esteemed status of a Renaissance Scholar). My time in Los Angeles, though I greatly enjoyed the congregation there, was rather difficult in other areas. As a socially awkward student who was not greatly interested (for deeply personal reasons) in drinking and partying, my university was not a particularly good fit socially speaking, and my grades and personal experience there were hampered as well by crippling bouts with anxiety attacks that I had during my time there and did not fully understand. Had I been more wise and more aware of myself, I would have taken better care of myself and not put myself in such a situation where I put my psyche through such harm. In retrospect, I greatly lament the fact that the University has never sent me my sheepskin for graduating or that I did not do enough networking there, despite my interest and involvement in professional societies.
After nearly graduating (it would take a bit of time to get the paperwork sorted out), I went off to Cincinnati to Ambassador Bible Center. I greatly enjoyed the networking with my fellow students (many of whom remain friends to this day) and I loved the in-depth Bible studies from the instructors, however my experience there was not an unmixed blessing either. Having been someone who grew up in peripheral areas, I found that being in the center of action was very unpleasant for me. I disliked feeling that people were talking about me or that I was being weighed in the balance and found wanting by people simply because of political or personal reasons. That sort of experience filled me with a great deal of anxiety, and though I thought the local congregation was very friendly, the political difficulties of my year in Cincinnati were very wearisome for me and I did not wish to stay long, given how it made me feel.
Upon my return to Tampa, I did not think that I would pursue any higher education than that. The stress to my physical and mental health that I had dealt with as an undergraduate student were very discouraging, and I lacked the confidence after that experience to think that any university would want to have me as a graduate student. However, a friend of mine informed me of the entrance requirements to the local state university, the University of South Florida, which has a good program in Engineering Management (part of their Industrial Engineering department) and was reasonably priced, and so I bravely took the GRE (which I did well on) and then (despite being in the grips of a lengthy period of major depression that would end up lasting about five years) I managed to have a nearly 4.0 average as a graduate student, which is either testament to a certain amount of persistence and academic excellence on my part or generous grading. After a heavy load of working full time and studying full time, I graduated in 2008 with my first master’s degree. I thought that the education might help provide some sort of opportunity for further advancement in eventually managing engineers, though that has not yet been the case.
Although I had intended to take a break and recharge my batteries a bit (which may have been wise, though I have seldom been very merciful or kind to myself in that regard), I found an opportunity to pursue a long-desired master’s degree in military history, which I somewhat secretly studied, not telling my family about it for some time, because I was a bit concerned they would think it impractical and a waste of money, but after I rather sheepishly told them about it, they were quite pleased that I had studied a subject I greatly loved and probably would have liked to have encouraged me beforehand. I greatly enjoyed the education I got at Norwich University, and in this particular case I particularly have enjoyed the contacts that I made, which has allowed me to pursue a modest reputation as a devourer of historical books as well as the occasional author of encyclopedia entries. Even given the considerable expense of my second master’s degree, at least there is a chance that my haul in free books reviewed over the course of a lifetime might make the degree at least not entirely economically useless, even given interest rates. I have also greatly valued the connections I have made with fellow students of the military arts (even as I await the day in which we shall not learn war anymore, may that day speedily come).
As of right now I have no plans for further higher education, though one never knows what opportunities will arise. I wish I had spent more attention to logistics and been less sanguine about the doors that were opened by higher education while not being sufficiently aware of the doors that were simultaneously closed because my ambitions of higher education made some people less willing to take a chance if they did not feel their job would be respected or honored enough. If someone can find a way to avoid some expenses by living with friends or family and avoiding expensive rent, or saving money on textbooks, or finding a way to take the most cost-effective classes possible while also maximizing networking opportunities (where one can gain professional and social contacts), then they should by all means do it. As a voracious reader anyway, most of what I have benefitted from in higher education is friends and professional contacts who can speak as to my academic excellence and work ethic and friendliness, as the rest is something I could review for free from a publisher or read from a library, or view online, except for the degrees themselves. It is my hope that others may learn from my experiences and dig for themselves a shallower pit.