Calvin Prize for Vermont Youth: Tomoki Nomura

The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation has established the Calvin Prize for Vermont Youth, for writers aged 19 years and younger currently living or attending school in the state of Vermont.

The first-place prize of $1,500 and the runner-up prize of $500 are awarded for the article, essay or poem under 1,000 words that best answers the prompt of this year’s contest: “Is higher education worth the cost to you and your family?” In letters during his youth Calvin Coolidge wrote often seeking money from his father. In these letters many of Coolidge’s expenses are related to his schooling – first at St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont and then at Amherst College in Massachusetts. In other letters, Coolidge and his father discussed the possibility of Calvin attending law school. Ultimately the family ended up deciding Calvin would “read the law” as a clerk in the office of Hammond & Field in Northampton, Massachusetts, thereby skipping the cost of law school. Students were asked to use the letters of the young Calvin Coolidge and other Coolidge-related sources to compare and contrast their situation today to that of Calvin Coolidge in his time.

The essays, which will appear in The Reader in the coming weeks, were written by nine exceptional Vermont students who were selected as semi-finalists and finalists for the 2015 Calvin Prize. The Prize is sponsored by the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation, and made possible by the generous support of National Life Group.

“Following the Crowd”
Submission by Tomoki Nomura St. Johnsbury, VT

Deciding whether or not to go to college is an obvious choice for most. All the numbers and statistics point in the same direction. Although every senior can go into great depths talking about this subject, I feel that this is not the real question that we face.

The real question is this: Do we even get a chance to decide whether or not to go to college anymore? It’s obviously a decision that every senior has the freedom to make, but society has a bias. Higher education is almost mandatory now. Most jobs require a college degree. When applying for a job, having a degree will almost always give you a competitive edge because most employers think having a college degree demonstrates maturity, commitment, and motivation. Choosing to enroll in college is a great choice to make, but society almost pushes us, seniors, in the direction to make the decision to go.

Higher education is no longer an uncommon thing reserved for only the academic and economic elite. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 65.9% of high school graduates enrolled in college last spring. That is the majority of seniors. Now, enrolling is the “average” thing to do, the minimum requirement. Since most seniors go to college after high school, you are “below average” if you don’t.

Seniors who decide not to go to college are almost looked down upon because people assume that they have no motivation to achieve anything. This is not true at all. Most of my friends who aren’t going to college next year are enlisting in the military or becoming apprentices to practice a trade. This is perfectly fine because they have a plan, a direction in life, something that most seniors lack.

There are countless stories of people who find success without earning a college degree. A famous example is Mark Zuckerberg. Through hard work sacrifices, he achieved what may not have been possible if he had stayed in college. Calvin Coolidge sums this up perfectly, saying, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

The problem with our generation is that we are afraid to chase their dreams. An even greater problem is that we don’t even know what their dreams are. It is difficult to know what you want to do with your life as a senior in high school, but it is even harder to follow your dreams when you have none. Knowing what you want to accomplish is the key to success.

Entering college with an undecided major is not uncommon. An estimate by Pennsylvania State University says that 20-50% of college students enter college undecided. For such students, college is supposed to provide a structured environment in which students can explore their options. It also serves as a transitional period between high school and adulthood.

These are both good things, but is it really worth spend over $30,000 a year to figure out what you want to do. You can do this without the help of college. Taking a gap year to work or travel will give a student more insight and experience than a year at college ever will. How can a student make a $30,000+ commitment, not knowing what he/she wants to get out of it?

I am a prime example of a student who would not benefit from the first couple of years of college. Currently, I have no idea what career I hope to pursue. In college, I would probably take a wide range of classes in order to see what interests me. While I am spinning my wheels trying to figure out what I want to do, students who already know their goals are taking classes that put them on a specific path in order to get their desired occupation. Why should I pay the same amount of money to attend college as such students and not be as productive? For me, it simply does not make sense to waste 2-3 years of my life and my parents’ money by not making the most out of that time.

College is a great option for students who know what they want to do because it points them in the direction that they want to go. For students such as me who have no clue what they hope to major in, it will be a waste of time. If I had the choice to take time before college to figure my life out, I would gladly take the opportunity. Sadly, I do not have such a luxury.

I come from a family with a very strong academic background. Every single adult in my family tree that I can think of is a doctor, or is in medical school studying to become a doctor. I was raised on the idea that going to college was a “must.” I did not know a single person in my family other than my grandmother who has not gone to college. Because of my upbringing, the thought of having the option of not going to college right away had never crossed my mind until this year.

Higher education is worth the cost to my family but not to me. Although I will most likely enroll in a college next fall, I don’t believe that college is worth the time and money for me. Similar to Coolidge, I don’t want to pay for something unless what I get from it is worth more than what I paid. Higher education is only worth the money if you know what you want to accomplish. As Earl Nightingale once said, “People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.” I don’t know my goals, so until I figure that out, higher education won’t be the best option for me.

Freedman, L. (2013, June 28). The Pennsylvania State University Division of Undergraduate Studies. Retrieved September 21, 2015.