If I could give advice to students beginning a school year, it would be to pursue your own goals and dreams. Find something you love and chase it. You do have to have a plan for the future. You do need to pursue a path that leads to success. But you need to determine what success is to you.

Many people think that January 1 marks the start of a new year.

That is the first day on a new calendar, but for people with children at home or those who work in education, the start of the new year is the day children return to school.

I think about my young sons and what they need to know about the beginning of a new school year. It’s hard to impart much wisdom to a preschooler or second grader.

But I have talked to my 7-year-old about how his behavior affects others. We talk about how paying attention and obeying his teacher are good ways to improve his ability to learn. We also discussed how every thing he learns now will be the foundation for him to build his education on in the future.

He loves school, and he is ready to get back with his friends. Who wouldn’t be excited about second grade? You get to play with your friends in physical education class and several recesses a day. I don’t know about you, but I don’t get that at my job.

I don’t talk to Dawit much about preschool. Since he doesn’t know any English yet, it wouldn’t do much good.

I think back to my days in school. I wonder if I followed the right path. School was a competition for me. I wanted the highest grades in the toughest classes. It didn’t help that my school system was making the transition to more math and more science to help meet new state graduation guidelines. So we took algebra before anyone else had. We were in trigonometry with older students. They had to add classes in the sciences to help meet the requirements as well.

I enjoyed the challenge and feeling like I was blazing a trail. I took every math and science class I could and even worked in four years of Latin and received college credit for my work in senior English through the brand-new Advanced Placement program.

My test scores were all really good and I even received scholarships because of my rank as a National Merit Scholar. Because almost all of my background was in math and science, I presumed I should follow that path in college and entered an engineering program at Oklahoma State University. I did fine in that pursuit. I could make the formulas work, and I worked hard to make progress toward a degree.

But then I took a political science course and fell in love with that coursework. I switched my major and took a ton of hours the last three semesters to finish on time.

But 40-year-old Kent would like to talk to 15- and 20-year-old Kent.
I did all of those things for all of the wrong reasons. I took the advanced classes for the same reason the chicken crossed the road: Because they were there. I dropped out of band because it interfered with classes. I gave up a lot of opportunities to pursue a very limited group of opportunities.

When I changed my major, I took a lot of hours trying to finish “on time.” I didn’t do that because I had big plans for that summer. I had built my reputation and self-worth on academic success. I couldn’t do anything to jeopardize that.

I wish now that I would have taken another year to finish. I could have done even more in college and wouldn’t have had to sprint to the finish. I had a good job that worked well with a college schedule. It was pure vanity that drove me to finish in four years. I wish now that I would have slowed down and smelled the roses.

There is nothing wrong with academic pursuit, as long as you really want to do it. If I could give advice to students beginning a school year, it would be to pursue your own goals and dreams. Find something you love and chase it.

You do have to have a plan for the future. You do need to pursue a path that leads to success. But you need to determine what success is to you and go after it with everything you have. Don’t conform to someone else’s timeline. Don’t make decisions because of what someone else thinks.

You only get one trip through. Don’t waste it trying to impress or please someone else.