By the time this column comes out major events in this country will have played themselves out, and we will be looking at a whole new set of cards in the hand that we as a society have been dealt. In fact, to push the metaphor farther, it appears that not only the cards but the very rules of the game we’re playing will have changed by then. But in the time warp caused by the confluence of an historic two year political campaign, an economy continuing to worsen on a daily basis, and undeniable signs that the physical health of our planet is deteriorating at an ever increasing rate, perhaps we should look back to that age of innocence we enjoyed just a few short days ago.
My wife Linda and I spent a good part of the month of October driving in a gigantic 3,000 mile loop around the midsection of the country, tracking down relatives we had not seen in too many years. We worried about the cost of such an undertaking, but couldn’t say when, if ever, we might have the resources to take the trip in the uncertain future.
The late autumn weather was predictably varied but always beautiful. Fall was slowly and gracefully giving way to winter, and that endless sea of rolling grassland known as the prairie states was once again settling into the last phase of harvest time.
People went about their business as if oblivious to the monumental forces at work around them. Yard signs and the occasional political bumper sticker turned up, but not in anywhere near the numbers one might have expected, and with none of the viciousness expressed by some of the candidates and their supporters; there appeared to be a sense of restraint on the local level that simply doesn’t exist on the national scene.
Neighbors posted their preferences alongside one another without apparent rancor, sometimes even with a sense of humor despite the weariness one feels at the end of a hard fought and traumatic political campaign. Outside Madison, Wisconsin, on a street lined with an impressive number of local and national political signs, one homeowner in the middle of the block summed up the campaign in a handwritten sign that said, “Vote for Jack Daniels! No negative ads! Over 100 years of making people happy! I’m Jack Daniels and I approve this message!” It felt good to know that people hadn’t completely lost their capacity for humor and self parody.
Then on a strip of Interstate 80 somewhere between Lincoln and Omaha, with the radio spitting out reports of the alarming freefall of the Dow, there appeared another positive sign of the times in the form of a billboard with the simple, three word statement in huge letters, “Invest in yourself.” I brushed it off as just another marketing slogan for one investment firm or another, but then in smaller type at the bottom of the sign, I noticed the advertiser responsible for the message: the University of Nebraska.
The simple wisdom of the message caught me by surprise; in times of economic distress, education is truly the only equity guaranteed to increase over the long haul—and no one can take it from you.
This fall semester UNM-Taos saw a major upswing in enrollment in part, perhaps, because the self reliant citizens of northern New Mexico know that workforce development, basic academic skills, and certificates and degrees across the academic broadband are absolutely essential to a satisfying and productive life. The high school student taking dual credit courses, the young adult planning for his or her future and the senior citizen channeling the wisdom of a lifetime all know that this is a good time to make a strong commitment to education.
Like the sign says: invest in yourself. Find out what your community college can do for you.