Summertime

Robert Valentine
Senior lecturer
of advertisingRobert Valentine Senior lecturer of advertising

Column by Robert Valentine, Senior lecturer of advertising

Robert Valentine Senior lecturer of advertising

Robert Valentine
Senior lecturer
of advertising

It’s summertime.

Summer, for most of us, means an end to school, however briefly. It does not, however, mean an end to learning.

Whether you’re off to a high-powered internship in New York or a summer of part-time work, you’ll be learning things. In fact, it may be life-changing. 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, but by the end of the summer, he could hit every time with either hand.”

Spivey eventually grew to be 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 well before July 4, and, in his words, “It changed the way I look at literature and life.”

Then, there’s the young man who intended to while away the summer as a tennis pro at a country club.  As the opportunities arose, he worked the front desk at night, sold memberships in the heat of the afternoon (too hot for tennis), worked in the business office and even tended bar on Friday and Saturday nights. All work, no play.

“I learned how to shift gears constantly, to work with people of all ages and backgrounds – from kids to grandparents; from groundskeepers to high-priced lawyers,” he told me. “I learned presentation skills and the value of hard work; to value anyone and everyone for what they do for an organization and the significance of personal relationships, the importance of humor and of being willing to try anything.” He met some nice people, too, who “helped me immensely getting into graduate school, getting internships, getting my first professional job and then advancing in the field.”

Hard work didn’t hurt him. He is Robert Davies, 13th president of Murray State.

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 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 forklift or a bargain. It might be the year you eat your first asparagus, escargot or 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 consider 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 occupy a space that is wide open and filled with potential. This is when we can make mistakes (valuable learning tools) or go beyond the bounds of what we believed we could accomplish.

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

If you’re moving on, have a nice trip, and may all your days be summertime.