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KEEPING IT REAL

There’s a converstion today about college degrees. About the expense; about where to get one; about whether to get one at all. You’re seeing it played-out across social media and across the country. It’s a story that for many may turn the course of their lives and it’s one that’s very personal.


My story is one example. It’s no secret that I’ve plowed through life on my own terms: At 15, I wanted to travel, but had no wheels, so I hopped freight trains. Turns out that was a lot more interesting than driving cross country in a beat-up Renault LeCar, which I did later.


At 25, living in Paris, I wanted to be a journalist, but didn’t have the creds, so I bought a camera and went out and found a war to cover. It beat turning in my last photo-project and Spanish assignments that would have given me that piece of paper that so many who go to college expect after 4 years (for me it was 6 and still counting).


There are many who might see that as shortsighted, as a college degree is the very least a successful journalist is expected to have. In my case, it’s ironic. I went on to have a very successful career as a local & national television news journalist, having covered the wars in Nicaragua, Bosnia & Croatia; the tsunami in Indonesia; the drug wars in Colombia & Mexico; and the sometimes mind-numbing minutia that comes to local news. Factor in the often complicated stories on the economy & multiple elections in 2 countries and I did all right.


Had I turned in that final Spanish paper, I might have gotten the legitimacy I should have had, but not having it didn’t seem to hamper my ability to live and thrive in Mexico for more than a dozen years. My Spanish is still broken, but some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had have been in my chosen second language. The richest experiences, which included a robust project to get a governor elected in Sinaloa — cartel country — have happened despite my not having my college degree.


Jobs did it. Zuckerberg did it. Lester Holt, Peter Jennings…and me. Maybe we were too impatient. Like many things in life, it’s “complicated.” It’s too complicated to tell people that I’d have graduated, “if I’d just turned in my photo project & that Spanish paper.” So, it’s a conversation I just don’t have, except around a table with friends who compare life stories.


I lived a colorful one, before, during, even after I left mainstream journalism. I’ve often spoken at respected University campuses, where young people often ask me what to study to get to where I did. Everything, is my reply. College isn’t a frat party. It’s bench-pressing for your mind. Whether you finish or not.


Sometimes I regret — especially now that my own son is about to head to college — that I don’t have that piece of paper. If I’m lucky — and so far, I have been — that’ll be the biggest regret I’ll ever have.

— Jon Duncanson, Aviana Productions

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