Pearls of wisdom

Recently, my spouse informed me that February is the month of the pearl. Perhaps she shared that information as a Valentine’s Day hint! Regardless of her rationale, there is a lesson or two to learn for higher education from these small, beautiful objects.

“Pearls of wisdom” is a description of wise advice, concise pieces of knowledge that are metaphorically as precious as pearls. Comparing wisdom to the preciousness of pearls is nothing new, in fact it appears in the Old Testament book of Job.

A recent visit in the desert southwest with an alumnus from the 1950s led to a conversation about the wisdom he encountered as a student in the mountains of West Virginia. Recalling two favorite professors, a housemother and a coach, he recounted the life lessons of four years on campus. As precious as a pearl, an adolescent grew into a mature young man. More than 60 years later, he continues to marvel at the transformative nature of a Davis & Elkins College education. Not surprisingly, a sizable portion of his estate will be returning to this institution of higher education so that wisdom continues to be imparted to the present and future generations.

Pearls also teach us about the power of irritation. As we likely remember from science class, it takes a single grain of sand to “irritate” an oyster, or other mollusk, causing it to secrete calcium carbonate that is deposited in concentric layers eventually forming a beautiful pearl.

The educational process, too, can be a bit “irritating.” That graduate of the 1950s undoubtedly encountered professors who pushed him out of his comfort zone. He encountered “irritating” opinions that challenged his naive worldview. I guarantee he had a coach who demanded more than our alumnus thought he could give, until he reached a new level and excelled in his chosen sport. If a student is not “irritated” by academic, social, spiritual and physical demands while at Davis & Elkins College, then we are failing at our task. Being the “grain of sand” to a young man or woman who is preparing for a lifetime of mountains and valleys – opportunities and challenges – is beginning the necessary process of creating an exquisite gem of a human being.

There is one final lesson we can learn from a pearl. A natural pearl of value is found in only one of every 10,000 oysters.

Likewise, all of those who had the good fortune to study at Davis & Elkins, whether alumni or present students, should consider themselves fortunate.

Like that rare pearl of value, many who would greatly benefit from the transformative D&E education are not so fortunate to experience it. Let us never take our blessings for granted, rather let us be grateful and make the most of every opportunity that comes to us on life’s journey.

May we savor the beauty and miracle of wisdom, spurred by an “irritation” that comes to a fortunate few.

The journey continues…