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.
Submission by Matthew Fearon
Monroe, NH (St. Johnsbury Academy Student)
Knowledge is the key to succeed in this world. Where it is that you acquire that knowledge doesn’t matter in the slightest way, whether you have studied for fifteen years at a top university or learned on the job right out of school. College isn’t the only way to have a successful life, no matter what the statistics say. “Fifty-eight percent of people who go to college are happier” there is a very good possibility that is true, but it is more like “fifty-eight percent of happy people, also went to college”. People who are happiest in this world are successful, no question about it. But success isn’t measured in the same unit of wealth which it is most commonly compared to. I would place a bet of any value that there is a man who lives in what most would consider extreme poverty, that has a family and even though he may live paycheck to paycheck, he is just as happy and successful as someone making six figures. In order to become successful in this world you have to follow your dreams, for many that dream is to acquire a high income job and make lots of money. That is perfectly fine, and by all means if you wish to be a doctor or a lawyer, it is in your best interest to get a higher education. For some their dream is to make living traveling the country in a van, exploring one small town at a time. That is also perfectly fine, and I think we can all agree that you don’t need to put yourself into the debt of a higher education for that.
Society has created the standard that everyone needs to go to college and get a job working for someone else. Society wants me to work off my college debt trying to climb the corporate ladder for my entire life. I will succeed in life, I will succeed by accomplishing my personal goals, wealth is not one of them. Why would I follow in societies ideals into college debts, just to work it off and try to put myself into a higher tax bracket. There is nothing wrong with people who spend their time, working for other people, helping them accomplish their goals. But that’s not me, I will work for my whole life accomplishing my own goals. That’s the only way to find personal success.
“…as far as I can judge I do not pay out except where the return is of more value to me than the money…” – Calvin Coolidge, 1895, Amherst. In my personal situation I have found myself stuck in a place where I don’t need to go to college to be successful. I have been a strong leading member of the St. Johnsbury Academy Electrical Program for the last two years. I could easily avoid going to college and fallow my interest in the trades. The trades programs in the United States are depleting with societies push on higher education. While most would consider this a bad thing I see this as opportunity. If an average master electrician right now in the northern Vermont area can make roughly fifty-five dollars per hour, imagine what that number would look like in ten years when there are significantly less electricians in the state. In a simple situation of supply and demand, the average cost per hour for electricians will be rising significantly. It makes sense not to go to for higher education in my personal situation, why should I waste the money on schooling that I don’t need? The return doesn’t outweigh the cost, if I wish to continue on the path to be a master electrician.But I see more for myself then just being a electrician in a sense though. I am passionate about the environment and know that we power our life’s with a limited resource, that will expire. I have been involved in a rapidly growing solar project at St. Johnsbury Academy. During my short time working with the solar project, that now powers two of our larger buildings on campus, it is clear that “green” power is the future. So I will incorporate the opportunity of the trades opening up with my passion for supplying “green” power to the area that I will be working in.
But if I plan on having a greater impact on my area, as well as the area around me I will need to get bigger. I will need to start or at least run my own company to do this. I will need to know more than just solar, I believe that in order to have the most reliable source of environmentally friendly power, I will need to transfer into hydroelectric. But, in order to build my background and knowledge in the hydroelectric field I will need a degree. With a degree I will be able to expand my business and reach out to a larger area. The more buildings and factories I can transfer into more energy efficient devices, the more solar panels that I can put up, the more efficient dams that can provide environmentally friendly renewable power into the grid. The closer we come as a society to powering a green world.
Is college worth the cost? Coolidge said that he would never pay out, unless getting more in return. I can be “successful” without a higher education, but I don’t see my financial state as a success. I see success as doing everything I can to help transition our society into a society powered from renewable, sustainable energy. Therefor I will follow in Coolidge’s footsteps in pursuing a higher education, in order to build my company and gain the knowledge for a better future.