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My rather ridiculous education (Or do we really need a college degree?)

By BARBARA GONZALEZ- VENTURA, The Philippine STAR Published Aug 08, 2021 6:00 am

Butch Tan is an old friend of mine. When I was working at McCann-Erickson (Philippines) sometime in the late ’70s, he was working down the road at the Technology Resource Center.

One day Butch strayed into our office. I learned he was a UP graduate with a degree in marine biology. That had absolutely nothing to do with advertising. Nevertheless, I thought: Offer him a job. And I did. He initially became account executive for Coca-Cola, my account. Since then we have become friends for life.

Recently, Butch sent me an article I opened and read on my cell phone. It came from an American magazine, was written by a college professor from one of the best universities in the United States. He wondered about the effects of the lengthy COVID-19 quarantine on higher education.

He realized how high tuition was at the topmost universities, how students slaved to pay and how now they — universities, students and businesses — were realizing that formal education was no longer as necessary for hiring, as was once thought. In other words, a college education seems no longer necessary for finding a good job.

I had a chip on my shoulder about not having a college degree so I read a whole lot instead. I stayed there until I became vice president when it became clear to me that, since I worked in a family corporation, I had reached my limit. 

It’s about time, I thought. I am a high school 1961 graduate of Maryknoll College, when it was run by nuns, many years before it became Miriam College. I remember sitting in class one day when Sister Elizabeth Mary asked a question. I can’t remember what it was about now. “Who knows about this?” she asked. I was the only one who raised my hand. “Why is it always only you?” she said, sadness in her eyes. She must have been trying to tell me something.

Leave your eyes wide open to see the entire universe and learn every day from what it teaches you.

After high school I went to Switzerland to a finishing school where I learned some French, got intoxicated for the first time when our class went to try cheese fondue, went into town twice a week as we were allowed to, learned to eat yogurt with jam, listened to the others who spoke German, Spanish, English, Indian. There I learned a little French, typing, and about snow, how cold it gets. I learned a lot about life.

Today is my 77th birthday. I want to repeat to everyone out there the biggest lessons life has taught me: you don’t need a college degree to succeed.

Then I went to Madrid and managed to pass a test in Spanish as a first language. I think it came from listening to my grandmother and her daughters gossip in Spanish at home. I retained their conversations at a branch of the Sorbonne in Madrid. I walked 14 blocks to school with my first and last Spanish boyfriend, who protected me from the piropos (loosely translated: verbal flirtations). Once more, I learned about life. 

Then I came home, was courted, got married, had children. Learned more about life, enough to find work at an advertising agency where I was given a media bible, a folder of all media available and their prices per 60- or 30-second ad. There, I really learned about advertising, how to handle clients, how to scream when one of your co-workers would not stop nagging you.

Most important in survival is having the courage to take risks.

I had a chip on my shoulder about not having a college degree so I read a whole lot instead. I stayed there until I became vice president when it became clear to me that, since I worked in a family corporation, I had reached my limit. 

I applied at McCann-Erickson, got accepted after nine interviews. From then on my career steps were all upward. But I still did not have a college degree. Neither did Emily Abrera, who became president and chairman of McCann-Erickson. And neither did two other American biggies: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. 

You need an attitude that allows you to learn every time an opportunity presents itself and when you grow old allows you to teach something to younger people every time an opportunity presents itself.

Today is my 77th birthday. I want to repeat to everyone out there the biggest lessons life has taught me: you don’t need a college degree to succeed. You need an attitude that allows you to learn every time an opportunity presents itself and when you grow old allows you to teach something to younger people every time an opportunity presents itself.

When you see a course that interests you, enroll. That ranges from a watercolor class to a master’s in entrepreneurship, which I found you can take without a college degree as long as you have credentials. I took mine at AIM when I was already president of an ad agency. Now I have a master’s degree in my résumé. I wanted it because I thought I wanted to teach after retirement, but apparently that wasn’t meant to be.

Most important in survival is having the courage to take risks. Leave your eyes wide open to see the entire universe and learn every day from what it teaches you.

Today I still write this column, which I simply email. I make beautiful rosaries that I photograph and sell from my cell phone. I also sell StemEnhance Ultra from my cell phone. I have learned new media — the computer and the cell phone. And I still have a productive life in spite of my rather ridiculous education.