A Surprise Pearl of Wisdom by Marian Heath Axley
In 1954, the basketball coliseum was the only place large enough to seat the University of Kentucky’s College of Arts and Sciences freshman class for their first indoctrination. The class ranks overflowed with Korean War veterans who had opted to get an education with the GI Bill, and the university personnel would be severely strained to accommodate the huge increase in student numbers. A university dignitary on the podium gave a welcoming speech and then an admonishment to the newbies. “Look to your right, look to your left. One of you will not be here next year.” However, I had no plans of failing out or dropping out. To my right was a mature, beefy guy. To my left was a scrawny fellow. It ain’t gonna be me, I said to myself. I am gonna behere next year.
I had made my way to college after receiving a religious education from a small group of teaching nuns in Kentucky. In high school, we had concentrated on thorough work habits and a no-nonsense dedication to learning. Although I didn’t know what college would be like, I was happy to be there, and knew that with hard work and dedication, I would do well.
As I sat through my first university indoctrination, I was imagining what college would be like when all of a sudden the administrator interrupted my thoughts. “We are going to call out the majors in alphabetical order for the Arts and Science school,” He said. “When we call out your major, walk to the entrance where a guide will meet you.”
Major? I was caught off guard because I had never thought about a major; I just knew that I was going to be the first member of my family to go to college. I didn’t know what I wanted to study during my four years in college, so I decided then and there that I would simply leave the coliseum after they called out the first major.
“Agriculture!” the administrator said into the microphone. I stood up and then immediately sat back down. I was familiar with tobacco fields and cornfields but knew that I had nothing in common with that line of work.
“Art,” the administrator said next. I hesitated a moment. I had never taken an art class; I just knew I could draw a little better than some of my friends. Several people near me rose and began to file out. I can do this, I thought, and followed the group.
And I did do it. Although I came to realize that my casual method of choosing a vocation not only showed naïveté and probably stupidity, I graduated from college four years later with a degree. Fast-forward sixty years. I not only have a bachelor’s degree in fine art from the University of Kentucky, but also a master’s degree in art from Florida Atlantic University. I am a retired high school art teacher from the Palm Beach County school system.
During the past ten years I have become a nationally accredited professional watercolorist. I am now exhibiting pieces internationally, and I have received numerous professional awards for my paintings. I was named a Signature Member of several state and national watercolor organizations and feel privileged to use their initials after my name.
There are some pearls of wisdom in this story. Yes, it is important to have a hard work ethic because if you are committed and you work hard, you can do anything you set your mind to. But the most important thing to remember is that hard work and dedication are more important than talent. I had almost zero artistic talent when I decided to make art my life work, but I remained dedicated, and I worked my hardest, and that is how I found my success.
I always told my high school art students that a lack of talent wasn’t an excuse in my classes. “I can teach you to draw. I can teach you to paint,” I would say. “Otherwise why am I standing in front of this class?” I wanted to convey to my students that if they remained interested and motivated, they could succeed. Therefore, even if you don’t think you’re good at something, work hard, remain focused, and approach the challenge head-on, and you can not only improve, but also excel.
It is impossible to imagine where life can take you. Take each day one step at a time and never be afraid of the possibilities.
Remember how powerful you and your choices are. The path you take does matter and how you react to things does make a difference.
Paula C Snyder, Staying Inspired blogger, was a published contributor of several articles in the first volume, Contagious Optimism, released in 2013 (pictured below).
Visit The Contagious Optimism Book series website for more information, find local live events, purchase merchandise, and to have your own stories considered in future editions.