Tom Hanks recently wrote an op-ed (meaning “opposite the editorial page” or “opinion editorial”…so… a personal article written by a guest, rather than a staff writer) about community colleges for The New York Times. Hanks graduated from a community college in California and to sum up his experience there he says “that place made me what I am today.”
I’ve been thinking about that. What makes you and me and Tom Hanks what we are on any given day?
My guess is every other student who attended the community college Tom Hanks attended doesn’t go around crediting it for their identities – their successes or failures. Well, maybe there are a good many who peg their failures on it. Pegging failures on something or someone else is the effortless thing to do.
I wonder about you. I wonder about every student I meet and even the colleagues I encounter year-to-year: what made you the person sitting across from me? How did you come to this place? At this time?
What is this place, where you and I are meeting, this community college going to mean to you? Me?
Hanks was a lousy student, with lousy test scores heading into community college. He dropped classes after an hour, failed classes, took classes he loved and classes he loathed, had good teachers and bad and he recalls, very specifically, things he learned in community college that he has used throughout his illustrious career. I mean think about his career…Saving Private Ryan, Philadelphia, Apollo 13, Captain Phillips, Bosom Buddies…‘nough said.
I wonder about Tom Hanks’ community college. I wonder if you and I were at that community college instead of this community college if we would be made differently today.
I wonder if places make people or people make places. In his op-ed, Hanks wrote:
President Obama hopes to make two years of free community college accessible for up to nine million Americans…because more veterans, from Iraq and Afghanistan this time, as well as another generation of mothers, single parents and workers who have been out of the job market, need lower obstacles between now and the next chapter of their lives. High school graduates without the finances for a higher education can postpone taking on big loans and maybe luck into the class that will redefine their life’s work. Many lives will be changed.
I wonder about luck and lives changing.
I don’t have to wonder about whether you and I have faced obstacles and challenges in our lives. I don’t know exactly what yours have been, but I know you’ve had them. As charmed as Tom Hanks’ life seems to be – I’m sure he’s had some too.
Whatever has brought us to this community college today – may or may not matter.
What this community college means to us, to who we become, is something we get to choose. Today.
We could even be “bosom buddies” and I won’t need you to worry for me ’cause I’m alright. I will never say I’m a victim of circumstance. You won’t either.