Education was always considered extremely important in my family.
It was a point that my parents always made in those many conversations with me and my six older siblings about what we were going to do with our lives.
My parents would constantly stress that our futures would likely be pretty bleak if we didn’t buckle down and study, get good grades and work hard to eventually become a doctor, lawyer, or some other occupation that would provide a solid foundation for us.
Of course, like many rebellious children, I tended to believe in my early years that while a good education was certainly a useful asset to have in the bank, hard work and a positive attitude were probably good enough to make a decent living.
That theory was bolstered by my friendship with many fishermen in rural Newfoundland who made their living by heading out to sea and catching what they needed to cover their bills and live good lives.
Many of these guys dropped out of school early to follow in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers who regularly sailed their long-liners and dories out into the Atlantic Ocean to take advantage of the catch of the season.
I was always fascinated by these hard and industrious men, and considered myself privileged to be treated as a friend by them when I started my first posting as a reporter back in 1992 in northern Newfoundland.
They were as intrigued by the fact that I had a university education as I was by them and their sea-faring lifestyles.
Although we were from the same province, I grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland’s capital, while they grew up in one of the hundreds of small fishing communities that dot the coast, which was as fundamentally different as growing up on Mars.
While I was urged to go to school to achieve my dreams, the fishermen found all they wanted in their occupations.
While most didn’t finish high school, it was not a reflection on their intelligence.
In fact, they were smarter than many doctors and lawyers I know today.
One of my friends was engaged and decided it was time to build his own home on a piece of property he inherited from his father.
Instead of hiring a contractor and a construction crew, as most people would, my buddy ordered in blueprints of a house he had spotted in some magazine and taught himself how to build a home as he went.
I was skeptical in the beginning, but before the year was over, my friend had constructed a beautiful three-storey home with central heating and vacuuming.
I was amazed that it looked exactly like the blueprints intended it to be.
It was about that time that I, who was a struggling writer living in a basement apartment, began to question my own education and vocation and wondered if I should just quit my job and join the guys on their fishing boats.
But then the cod moratorium struck and the comfortable lives of many of my friends began to crumble.
I remember the federal government began retraining programs to wean many of them away from the fishery.
A training company from Toronto showed up to teach the fishermen the basics of computers, and that’s when the whole educational gap became very apparent.
It had been so long since many of them sat in a classroom that they couldn’t figure out the letters on the keyboard.
Then there’s the fact that many of their hands were so big (they were generally large men) that one of their fingers usually covered three of the digits on the keyboard.
I left the area soon after, so I never did find out if any one of them were successful in their new ventures.
But I quickly figured out that being a hard worker doesn’t necessarily equate to success in life.
And that’s why, like my parents in the old days, I encourage young people to get as much education as they can.
It’s the one thing that nobody can take away from them.