Valentine: Summer can be life-changing

Robert Valentine Senior lecturer in advertising

It’s summer time.

Summer, for most of us, means an end to school for a brief respite. It does not, however, mean an end to learning. It’s not even a break in the road.

Whether you’re off to a high-powered internship in New York or a summer of part-time work (for which you have not yet begun to look), you’ll be learning new things.

In fact, it may be the most important time for learning. What you do and what you learn is entirely up to you.

In the summer of 1950, a tall kid named Bill Spivey spent eight hours a day working on his hook shot.

“He would shoot 50 hooks with his right hand, and then shoot 50 hooks with the left,” said the old man who was his landlord that summer. “When he started, he couldn’t hit the garage with his left hand, but by the end of the summer he could hit every time with either hand.”

Spivey grew to 7 feet tall, played on an NCAA finals team and was named Athlete of the Year. For him, it was a good summer.

I know a guy who, when he left for college, was told by his uncle, “I guess you’ll have to read ‘Moby Dick.’ That’s what they do at college. If you finish it, you’ll be the first one in the family to do it.”

During his freshman year no one asked him to read Melville’s long, heavy classic. So, in between waiting tables at a state park, he read it on his own. He finished it before the Fourth of July and, in his words, “It changed the way I look at literature.”

When I was between fifth and sixth grade (this was during the Jurassic Era). I apparently whined to my mother that there was nothing to do. She decided I could learn to type. Not “keyboard,”mind you, but “type.”

Typing, in those days, was done on heavy black machines that required about 750 pounds of force to depress the “a” key.

My favorite key was the space bar, because I rarely screwed up with that one, and it was struck with the thumb – my most agile digit, as it turned out.

My friends thought I was a sissy (which had about the same meaning then that it does today) or weird (which means nothing in today’s parlance), but typing is the spinach of academia. I’m pretty sure that the ability to type raised my high school grades by a full letter and added at least one full point to my college GPA. For me, it was a good summer.

So, there it is: the summer stretches out before you like an empty blackboard. It waits for you to write on it, draw on it or lean against it. You can read something you’ve never read before or, if you like, watch a different film every day. You can learn to ride a bike, to skate, to surf or (and this is a tough one) to enter and exit a hammock with grace and confidence.

This might be the summer you learn to drive a truck, a fork lift or a bargain.

It might be the year you eat your first asparagus, escargot, crawfish, or take your first overnight hike, cross-country drive or transcontinental flight.

Chances are that you will make new friends this summer, and that some of them will be with you for life.

You’ll never know until your life has moved along for a decade or so, but you might want to bear in mind the possibility that the kid in the next bunk or the girl who takes over for you on the afternoon shift could end up coming to your wedding or being godparent to your firstborn.

You never know what a new summer can bring, but this much is sure: whatever comes will be filling a space that is wide open and filled with potential.

This is when we can make mistakes (which are valuable learning tools) or go beyond the bounds of what we thought we knew or believed we could accomplish.

Go for it; we’ll all be here when whoever you become returns in August.


Column by Robert Valentine, Senior lecturer of advertising