With fall comes many tear­ful good­byes Day’s true mean­ing

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - OPINION -

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 ted@ted­tay­lor.com.

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