Last weekend I visited family in Delaware for a very special occasion. My sister Laura graduated from the university with a degree in anthropology. Laura was one of those people who went right into the workforce after high school in the accounting department of Dupont. Many of you will remember the days when "data processing" hit the scene, and there were no programmers around. Companies gave a lot of talented young people the chance to learn COBOL, and Laura took the offer.
Her career progressed to the MRP end of IT. When the subject of demand forecasts came up, she asked where they came from. When she was told they came from sales, her comment was, "You can't believe those people!"
Laura moved up to the project management and planning ranks, eventually reporting to VPs. When Dupont sold its IT people to CSC (I think it was), the consulting level people went to Accenture. There she was a senior consultant in the paint division and probably learned more about the titanium white business than most of us would want to know.
Then, in a typical corporate Amerca move, Laura was encouraged to take an early retirement. Her client said, "They really don't get it, do they?"
Before the graduation ceremony Saturday, Laura explained why she decided within a week to go to college and major in anything but IT or business. She chose anthropology. The following comes from a university PR guy who spotted us in the lobby:
“I started working on [my degree] when I was about 20, and I stopped because I had children,” Cummings said. “I worked in corporate America for 30 years, and when I retired I said, 'I'm going to go get that degree.'”
Her determination to get her degree crystallized, Cummings said, when she saw her son, Matt Terranova, graduate from UD with a degree in criminal justice in 2002. “At his graduation I thought, 'You know, I really want that. I'm going to get it'”
Laura got up at 5 am most days to study before classes. I feel sorry for her instructors. She was going to get her money's worth, and asked hundreds of questions. She'd learned to hold people accountable, and her professors were no exceptions. She didn't skate through her classes.
We're proud. My sister and her son came in from Oregon. My brother is back from a year in China and came in from Denver. I made it there from Detroit. Laura's husband's whole family was there, including a daughter from downstate Delaware, and another who lives in Germany.
Laura's accomplishment reminds us that learning is lifelong, and college isn't vocational school. She's not going to look for a career in anthropology, although observing people every day IS anthropology. We can't keep our noses to the lean business grindstone all the time, because there are many paths to understanding our world. So spend some time tonight thinking about what you would do if you weren't doing what you do now. Get on Amazon, buy a book in the field, read it, and follow a new branch of curiosity for a few hours. Then when you retire, remember Laura.