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Does university matter?

By Donu Kogbara
MY 17-year-old son, Oliver, warned me to never, ever write about him again nearly two years ago.

Since he learned how to read, he has found the occasional comments I’ve made about him in various publications over the years utterly excruciating; and he was particularly horrified by the emotional, tear-jerking article I wrote when he left home for boarding school in September 2011.

“Will you please stop making me a laughing stock in front of my friends by carrying on as if I am a lost baby who can’t look after himself? All mothers are embarrassing, but you are worse than most; and I will permanently disown you if you ever tell your readers about my life again,” was what he said at the time.

I can’t say that fear gripped me when this threat was issued because I am far more lenient than his father…a disciplinarian who does not share my view that it is OK to purchase luxuries like ipads for kids who have never earned a dime.

Bluntly put, if Oliver disowns me, his Dad will become his sole income source until he joins the workforce; and he likes himself too much to toy with his main enjoyment-provider. Mums may be embarrassing. But they can also be useful.

Anyway, I decided to be obedient until the dust had settled and have complied with his wishes by keeping him off this page since he issued that stinging rebuke in 2011. But it was always my intention to mention him again if he did or said anything that was especially interesting; and I’ve just decided to drag him back into the spotlight because he has just refused to go to university.


He has always dreamed of going to an American university; but his parents want him to continue his studies in Britain for cultural, familial and financial reasons; and we aren’t willing or able to compromise; and he can’t bear the thought of a British university, so he has calmly informed us that when he leaves secondary school this summer, he will get a job and forget about higher education.

OK, so his father thinks that this defiant declaration is nothing more than emotional blackmail and a temporary tantrum.

And he may be right. But I strongly suspect that Oliver will not change his mind. He can be almost frighteningly dogged and single-minded; and he sounds pretty serious about his plans from where I’m standing.

And though I was initially shocked when he dropped his bombshell, I quickly adopted a philosophical attitude and am now, perhaps strangely, completely un-alarmed by the possibility that my beloved offspring will never go through a tertiary institution, despite being intelligent enough to do so.

Why am I so unbothered by a situation that would profoundly upset most educated mothers and why have I offered to help him apply for jobs this year?

Because the world is full of failures who have degrees…and successful people who didn’t go to university or dropped out halfway.

Steve Jobs, the innovative billionaire genius who founded the Apple computer/phone empire is a classic example of a non-graduate who rose to the top. And I’d rather be him than me with my BA and fragile bank account!!!

At any rate, Oliver’s rebellion – and my nonchalant reaction to it – has triggered off an increasingly heated debate within my family and social circle.

Some of my friends and relatives think that I’m being over-indulgent and downright irresponsible and should force Oliver to continue his education. One of his uncles has promised to beat him if he doesn’t change his mind.

Legitimate achievement

But you can’t force another human being to study! And some of the folks around me share my view that he has an enterprising streak and is smart enough to shine without formal qualifications and become richer than all of us put together.

OK, so money isn’t everything. But even the biggest intellectual snobs sometimes admit that legally acquired wealth IS a legitimate achievement.

I would love to hear Vanguard readers’ opinions about this issue


Last week, I used the term “LOL” in relation to a joke I’d heard and appreciated. It was about the recent merger of various Opposition parties.

Some mystified Vanguard readers contacted me to ask me what “LOL” means. And I suddenly realised that I too wouldn’t have had a clue what it meant if I didn’t have a text-obsessed teenage child who wastes a lot of time sending SMS messages to his cronies via his mobile phone and has taught me all kinds of “cool” (that is, inane and immature!) modern abbreviations.

I guess I should know better at my advanced age, but I sometimes use this youthful shorthand-speak when I am in a frivolous, light-hearted mood.

For the record, “LOL” means “Laugh Out Loud.”


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