As I reminisce, I sometimes wonder where I'd be if not for pivotal conversations I had with two respected adults in my relatively young life.
I graduated from Northeast Portland's Madison High School in spring 1979, ending what was a spectacularly unremarkable four-year academic tenure. Mostly aimless and certainly clueless, I enrolled at Mt. Hood Community College that next fall in a program I knew nothing about, and promptly disappeared into the crowd of academic failure.
At the same time, I landed work at an architectural/engineering company in downtown Portland, delivering blueprints to job sites and clients. That led me to switch majors my second year at MHCC, when I entered the engineering drafting/mechanical design program. And after two years in that program, I graduated with academic honors and an associate degree.
The year was 1981, when the economy was in the tank and construction jobs had withered, and that meant architects and engineers were starving for work. That also meant that recent college grads with associate degrees had little hope of gaining traction in the competitive world of architectural drafting or mechanical design.
Tom McKenzie was the owner of the company where I worked. As a graduate of West Point, he guided his business with military precision, but strikingly also with compassion. One afternoon, he called me to his office, thanked me for my hard work and began questioning me about my future plans. Somewhere in that conversation he let me know I had no future with the company, and that the best choice for me would be to return to college and pursue a bachelor's degree. I soon parted ways with that company, glad for the opportunities and job experience.
At about the same time, my church pastor — the Rev. Scott Delgarno — pulled me aside. He thanked me for the leadership I had shown in the congregation — even as a young man — and he wondered aloud about my future plans.
Like McKenzie before him, Dalgarno put before me an essential fork in the road: would I continue to bounce along aimlessly, or would I take a route of discovery by returning to college.
And so, in the fall of 1983, I enrolled at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash. And that led to my enrollment in the school's journalism program.
It took important people in my life to set me on a better path. If it weren't for Tom McKenzie or Scott Dalgarno, I'd certainly be in a different place today.
My point here is this: Over the next couple weeks, your children, grandchildren, teenaged employees, or the neighbor kid you've known since he or she was a toddler, will graduate from high school. Some of these young people will already have plans to enroll in college, but others will be as directionless I was at 18 years of age.
Oregon has one of the worst high school graduation rates in the nation, meaning many are opting out of college.
From a purely economic perspective, people who achieve a post-secondary degree or a four-year bachelor's degree earn about $20,000 more per year than people who simply jump into the workplace right out of high school.
Tom KcKenzie and Scott Dalgarno knew the value of a college degree, and because of the influential roles they played in my life, they provided the push I needed to pursue a bachelor's degree.
You have the same opportunities with the young people in your life. If you know of a young person who is opting out of college, take this opportunity to share your story and to provide that essential push in the right direction.