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"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."

If you are reading this blog, most likely you or someone special in your life has a new moniker: Graduate. A hard-won badge of pride. Congratulations.

I myself have been there. Done that. Twice, in fact. First from Holy Names High School in Oakland. Then I grabbed my parchment wrapped with a red ribbon from the University of California at Berkeley where I took my bachelor’s degree in English Literature. What are you going to do with that?!? was the taunt I typically received from my tech-and-business-major friends reaping the highest paid salaries San Francisco had to offer. Hmmm.

Not so long ago, the founder of the behemoth Apple Inc., Steve Jobs (RIP), said to the 2005 graduating class at Stanford University: “Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love.

Amen to that, Mr. Jobs.

Turns out, my love of words would one day find me deconstructing the origin and history of personal names, culminating in the founding of my own company. Take that! my cubicle-dwelling-tech compatriots. Ok, I admit, they have bigger houses and fatter 401(k)s than me.  Truth is, I love what I do. Passionately. Obsessively. After a decade of dedication, no word is off-limits to me. And, from time to time, I like to look at the etymology of regular words we use every day without really knowing the when, where and why. Like Graduate, for instance.

For roughly 900 years we’ve been pomping and circumstancing our way across the stage in our very medieval-looking robes identifying ourselves as proud members of the academic community. But why?

Let’s go back to the Middle Ages, shall we, when Latin was the language of scholars and monasteries were the learning centers of the West.  Typical subject matter covered grammar, logic, rhetoric, law and religion. Completion of these studies resulted in the formal awarding of degrees, first baccalaureate then, for the ultra-committed, mastership (which would involve more comprehensive learning in the areas of mathematics, history, philosophy, astronomy and languages such as Hebrew and Greek mainly for Biblical translations).  The mastership degree was conferred for the expressed purpose of teaching; i.e., one suitable for the molding of intellectual and moral excellence in the minds of others.

The word graduate has been traced to the theoretical prehistoric root *ghredh- “to go forward.” How apropos! But after further research, I also learned that it is the same prehistoric root that evolved into the words gradual (steady), ingredient (the right stuff) and progress (upward momentum). I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Seriously. Words are simply magical. 

So here's to the estimated 7.5 million 2019 American Graduates broken down by:

  •  High School degrees: 3.6 million
  •  Associate degrees: 1 million
  •  Bachelor’s degrees: 1.9 million
  •  Master’s degrees: 780,000
  •  Doctorate: 182,000

Go find what you love. All 7.5 million of you. You are the master of your fate. You are the captain of your soul. At least that's what old people tell you, right? But really, Carpe diem. Sieze the day. You are never, ever, ever too old for that.

Julie Hackett | Founder, NameStories.com

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