Education, more than going to school

Debbie Jacob  -
Debbie Jacob -

Sometimes I write a feature that I know is going to stick in my mind for a very long time. That will certainly be the case with the story I wrote yesterday about Annelie Solis, an artist who has forged her own creative path.

It might seem that most artists do this, but Solis explores ancient traditions, iconography, and miniature paintings and finds ways to interpret ancient work in her own vision.. Her complicated use of geometry and her devotion to perspective impressed me, but mostly this 35-year-old artist presents invaluable lessons about self-discovery that comes with taking charge of your own education.

In a country that measures academic success with exams and CXC passes, Solis managed to rise above that. She credits her curiosity to her parents who never pressured her to conform or follow a safe path to self-fulfilment and creativity.

At the end of every school year, many Trinidadian students who are heading for US universities reach out to me in a panic saying, “I don’t know what I want to study.” They can’t understand that in the US system, your first two years of university are mostly filled with taking courses outside of your major. Students explore classes they didn’t know existed. Even science and maths students take history, anthropology, sociology or art history classes.

So many students in our system get riveted to a science, business, math or language track. My daughter took Caribbean history, science, Spanish, English literature and English language classes. She got a degree in fashion design and then, after she graduated, she hung on one July/August vacation for me in the International School of Port of Spain (ISPS) library while I was in the US. There, she discovered she loved library science.

She wanted to do a master’s degree in library science and said, “But how can I do that?” I just did a fashion degree.”

I said, “Don’t worry. If that is what your heart tells you to do, take your chances. You will find an interesting way to combine the two disciplines.”

And she did. Her first job as an International School librarian was in Khartoum, Sudan. She had worked on redecorating my library at ISPS and decorated my Port of Spain Prison library and the school in Sudan wanted her to refurbish its library.

She began to get job offers from schools she didn’t even apply to because she had that unusual combination of disciplines.

I believe that finding fulfilling work has nothing to do with sticking to a prescribed path or living up to anyone's expectations but yours. Success and self-fulfilment comes from how you combine your interests and studies and how you learn outside of formal education.

My first degree was in anthropology and it was the foundation for all my careers: journalist, teacher, librarian and writer. I wouldn’t trade my degree in anthropology for any other degree. You have to be willing to take chances – like Annelie and Ijanaya – to get opportunities you never dreamed existed.

There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t realise this or when I don’t marvel at how my own life turned out to be exciting and unexpected because I took chances. I’m glad that I found my way to this story about Annelie because it validated everything I feel.

The late Kathryn Stollmeyer Wight, a kind and gracious soul who touched all of us who knew her, had called me near the end of her life to suggest I do a story on Annelie.

When I wrote the story I felt Kathryn’s message was clear: she wanted everyone to see that we don’t find happiness by taking the safe and conservative path. We appreciate life on a whole new level when we travel down the road less traveled to borrow an idea from poet Robert Frost.

As students return to school, I hope they will think about ways to challenge their own learning. Read books, explore new hobbies and learn about careers that are exciting and different. Do the best you can in school, but realise formal schooling is a launching pad for so much more to experience in life. Education has to transcend the classes you take in school. Let your curiosity lead you in unexpected directions. Visualise new ways of learning and honouring your special gifts. Surprise yourself. Learn from people around you.

Thank you Kathryn, Annlie and Ijanaya for reminding us all that education is about far more than going to school.


"Education, more than going to school"

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