Retired Graduate Reflects on Career, Education, and the Desire to “See the Elephant”
By Ned Bauer, 1985 Graduate Board of Governors Bachelor of Arts (former name of the BGS program)
I returned to college as an adult, non-traditional student to finish what I had started years before. The impetus to return to college was brought about by several reasons. The requirement of a degree for advancement at my employer was a factor but the real reason was to “see the elephant.”
“Seeing the elephant” was something our pioneer families did, sort of as a culmination of a life’s work. As these earlier Americans raised their families, built their farms and businesses they reached a point where they had accomplished a great deal. But they hadn’t “seen the elephant,” an actual real elephant, at a circus. As they were able to finally take that deep breath and consider all they had accomplished they were able to visit the circus and “see the elephant”- they had arrived!
Finishing my education was my journey to “see the elephant.”
My journey was restarted at The Ohio State University at a nearby regional campus. I was awarded an Associate Degree and was on my way toward a BA. However, my work and supporting my family ruled out attending the main campus in Columbus. An old friend who was a guidance advisor at a local high school made me aware of the BOG/BA program at Western Illinois University.
The BOG/BA program did not require attendance on the campus at Western Illinois. Courses were paper based independent study with examinations monitored by an approved proctor. On the surface this seems pretty easy, but in actual practice independent study was tougher than traditional methods. But the instructors at Western Illinois were great and the learning experience was rewarding
The degrees from The Ohio State University and Western Illinois University were essential to my promotions at work. However, the real reward was not the promotions and increased pay but rather the sense of accomplishment – the “hey look what I did” feeling. I saw the elephant!
As a degree holder I was fortunate enough to satisfy one of the requirements for an opportunity to work overseas. My expatriate experience lasted on and off for fifteen years. Living in Germany, and working in Germany, France, Belgium, Spain and the UK was everything you might imagine. Meeting new people experiencing different cultures and getting paid for it – wow!
Managing small value added operations and watching them grow was a constant source of pride. The individual discipline that was required for independent study for the BOG/BA laid a firm foundation for the mostly self-sufficient work requirements for our satellite operations in Europe.
My experience in Europe, centered in Germany, was made significantly easier because of my prior exposure to the German language. I grew up with a German Oma and heard German spoken throughout my youth. At the time I thought little of it. The exposure to a foreign language is an absolute necessity for success outside the United States. While most business is conducted in English most relationships are not! Success on a professional and personal level absolutely requires language skills outside of English.
My courses in Sociology allowed me to learn about others with the goal of becoming more tolerant of other opinions and life styles, to be open and accepting, and most of all to be the example. I was also glad that I took a course in music. I have no skill in music, but I sure learned to appreciate it.
It sounds trite that hard work and determination will pay dividends but it’s true. Success in any sense, material or personal, requires that each of us takes responsibility for our actions. An advanced education doesn’t equate to success in everything we do, but the lack of an advanced education leaves a void – that doesn’t include “seeing the elephant.”
I last worked in 2009 doing consultant work for a German firm with which my old American firm was partnered with back in the day. I still speak with my old German friends on a regular basis. This was the best tangible result of earning my BOG/BA: it made it possible for me to work in Europe and make life long friends. The best reward – can’t buy that with any amount of money.
I am lucky enough to have a great family and two wonderful daughters. My oldest daughter manages a private mortgage company, is the mother of four great kids, all with Master degrees or currently in Master programs. My youngest daughter is the mother of two school age kids and a Department Chairperson for students with learning disabilities. She is also an ex-Peace Corp person who served in Kenya—she ACTUALLY saw the elephant in the wild! It makes me smile to hear my kids and grandkids say , “We keep looking for the elephant.”
So my advice to students at Western Illinois University or anywhere else or at any age is “Go see the elephant!”