“Are college walls perhaps a door

Shut to the working and the poor

While the privileged and the few ignore

The unwashed many?”

This week marks the beginning of a new college year for thousands of students throughout the country, many of whom are inundated with excitement. And so they should be – a new chapter in their academic journey, a step towards a dream job, the nearing of a potentially sky-high pay check that will guarantee lifelong happiness, won’t it? This is where the judgement of young adults can become quite clouded. Education is important & very beneficial in building your career, but it is not everything.

While many are going in the “right” direction by modern day societal standards, many are stuck behind barriers to education which are entirely out of their control. Because education is not a given right, education is a privilege. It is a privilege in monetary terms – Irish university fees are currently €3000 per year. It is a privilege in personal terms – college entry is determined by exams, which some people breeze through while others crumble under the pressure. All sorts of individual circumstances can easily get in the way of the third level educational programme of your choice, and it is for this very reason that we need to address the notion that without higher education, we cannot live a happy and successful life.

Education is formal and taught through formal institutions, while knowledge is informal, never-ending, and derived from real life experiences. Knowledge can come as a result of education of course, but it’s endless alternative sources make it accessible to one and all, with or without third level education. It requires a much deeper understanding, and no failed exam or academic institute can deny you of yours.

In 1982, and again in 1996, Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner addressed Fordham University & The University of North Carolina’s graduates, to deliver an extraordinary speech outlining the importance of satisfying your inner emotional and spiritual self through knowledge before satisfying your academic and professional self through education. In his incredibly moving poetic fashion, he advised the graduates to go onwards in their journeys with primary focus on the never ending search for knowledge by way of achieving inner peace.

He explains; “The true and durable path into and through experience involves being true to the actual givens of your lives. True to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge. Because oddly enough, it is that intimate, deeply personal knowledge that links us most vitally and keeps us most reliably connected to one another. And you will be sure to keep going in life on a far steadier keel and with far more radiant individuality if you navigate by that principle.”

The message is relevant for graduates as well as those at the beginning of their academic journeys, and it is most relevant for those who may not be in the place they feel they should be this September. Education is used to build a career, and knowledge is used to build a life. We must be clear on which comes first.

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