With fall comes many tearful goodbyes Day’s true meaning
When the first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882, the American job market and an individual’s place in it seemed, and in many ways really was, relatively predictable and orderly.
Most credit the carpenters’ union for that holiday, although some hold out for the machinists’ union, and a man — and they were all men — who practiced those crafts at the turn of the century could expect to do so for the rest of his working life. Women were not generally employed outside the home, but simply running a 1900 household was a grueling and unrelenting physical marathon. There was no concept of retirement; that man and woman would work until they could work no more.
The workers who came to that first parade and picnic in kew York — and for them it was a rare day off — did so by trolley or train if they didn’t walk. The day’s futurists saw progress as pretty much of a straight line; the trolleys and trains would get faster, more comfortable and reach more places.
Instead, an undreamed of transformation of transportation and travel was around the corner. The Wright brothers would become airborne in 1903 and Henry Ford’s first Model T would roll off the assembly line in 1908. The first commercial radio station would go on the air in 1920, and eight years later it would be possible to buy a television set, even though there was nothing really to see. The children and grandchildren of those families happily gathered under the banners of the kew York Central Labor Union would one day work at jobs that didn’t even exist, weren’t even imagined, in 1882.
In the intervening years between that first Labor Day and the most recent one, the American workplace went through phases where it seemed stable, almost permanent: Son following father into the steel mills and assembly lines; the Organization Man with a white-collar job in a large corporation that would go on forever.
However, blue collars were replaced by white; the mills became shopping malls; and something that would have been incomprehensible at that first Labor Day, the service industry, now dominates the economy. In the 1990s, bright young men and women eagerly hopped from job to job in fields — computers, the Internet, wireless telecommunication — that hadn’t existed 20 years earlier. It seemed then as if the workplace would be like this, if not forever, at least another generation or so. But the millennium brought another of those wrenching transformations that make the United States such a dynamic society.
ko more than those carpenters and machinists and their families enjoying that day off 121 ago, we today can’t imagine the sorts of jobs our children and grandchildren will be performing. The only constant is the respect we give to honest work well done.
We hope your Labor Day is happy, whatever your labor happens to be.
The fall season officially began for many people before a single leaf changed color. My season started at Chestnut Hill College Aug. 21 when I looked out on a class full of eager-to-learn faces, 17 of them to be exact — where did the summer go?
This, I’m sure is what my friend Mike Morsch was thinking when he recently told the story (in these pages) of taking his daughter away to college. He was not a happy camper. Hey, Mike, you aren’t supposed to be. It’s all part of that nasty ritual called (for them) growing up, (for us) getting older — and doing so way too fast.
This time last year we saw our granddaughter Brittany off to college at Kutztown and it was hard. Last week she went back for her sophomore year. Though she is our granddaughter we’ve always considered her to be our fifth child. That’s peculiar, you might be thinking.
Here’s the deal, though, when she was little she and her mother lived with us for a few years and I did a lot of the “Daddy” things. Each day I read her stories, took her to day care (we usually got an “icee” on the way home), took her to see Santa, to Phillies games (we almost froze to death one opening day), we went to an Eagles training camp (she met Jeremiah Trotter, had her picture taken with him), I learned all of the Barney songs, even met Sponge Bob. You know, the whole nine yards.
When she was a senior in high school I was designated as the one to take her shopping for colleges. We visited my alma mater (Millersville), the place where I now teach (Chestnut Hill), Bryn Athyn College, Penn State. She was accepted at both Chestnut Hill and Bryn Athyn; didn’t apply to the others. In fact I think she would have gone to Chestnut Hill, where they had offered her a scholarship had I not been on the faculty. You know the deal, too many people who knew her “Poppy” would have eyes on her. And then, next thing you know, she visited Kutztown University with her other grandparents, liked it, applied and got accepted.
When she left for college her mother (our daughter Melissa) was a wreck. I think she may have even out-cried Mike. I told her that college is the best thing that Britt could be doing. She was kind of quiet, bookish even, in high school and scored highest honors when she graduated, but her social life wasn’t on the radar. I cautioned Melissa, “Be aware that the kid you send there in August will be a young lady — hence different — when she returns home in kovember for Thanksgiving.” And I was on the mark.
College provided Britt with a chance to grow, to meet people from places where she’d never been and to learn who she really was. By the end of the first semester she was a very popular coed with lots of new friends. By the end of the second semester her popularity grew and her GPA was well above 3.0. She made it. In fact, I always say that if a student survives the freshman year — and many don’t — the other three are cake.
kow some of the deep thinkers today find it cool to pooh-pooh college, saying it isn’t relevant anymore, is too expensive, it doesn’t prepare you for the real world and so on. And maybe, for those looking to major in early Mayan art or the evolution of tree frogs, that might be so. But learning to be an adult is a key part of going there and never let anyone sell you on anything different, I know that it sure changed me.
In the classes I teach at the college I often have non-traditional aged students who tried it the other way, that is they felt they didn’t need a college education to succeed and now here they are with a dead-end job, raising a family and going after that degree, the one they shunned as a kid because they’ve come to understand that, without it, they are as far as they are going to go career wise.
College isn’t for everyone and some kids get sent there because that’s what their parents want. Such a move is a sure recipe for failure. You can’t live your life through your kids. We had four children. One had a full scholarship to become a mechanical engineer (and he is), one had a full ride to another college and majored in English, and two of them didn’t go to college at all. All four of them are successful.
Our second son, who hated every minute he was in school, joined the kavy, saw the world and found a career. He eventually applied the skills he learned into a six-figure job in the private sector (after 10 years in the service).
The other, Britt’s mom, married her high school sweetheart, had a solid career in the insurance field and raised two swell kiddies.
The two that didn’t go to college had the brains to go and succeed, but their inclination was to do something else — and they did so well and with our blessings.
I’ve been in higher education for four decades (which makes me at least old and, hopefully, wise) and I have seen, firsthand and over-and-over, the advantages that a college education provides — and believe me, all the learning doesn’t come from books. It’s not for everybody, for sure, because anything worthwhile is hard. But the lessons you learn there stay with you for life.
Back to school time is always very special, even if it results in some difficult parting of the ways — the first day your kid goes to kindergarten, the day your child goes to college. Believe me when I say, it’ll all work out, Mike.
One day it’ll just be another chapter in the sequel to your book.
Ted Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.