May 4, 2012

On Saturday, I will be receiving an education doctorate degree from Barry University, a small Catholic school in Miami Shores. The degree isn't honorary. I worked for it, and I'm as proud of this as anything I have accomplished in my life. While I did this for two people — my mother and myself — it certainly would be nice if it could have a broader impact.

Too many young kids — particularly black kids — are still dropping out of school way too early. This country will never compete globally when nearly one in four kids fails to complete high school on time.
For you parents out there: Don't just encourage your children to complete high school, which should be a basic step toward a much bigger education. I was fortunate to have a mother who understood the value of education, even as she saw me join the NBA and have a successful basketball career. My mom knew that education not only would help me down the road, it also would make me a better person.

It's understandable when young athletes lured by the big money of the NBA decide to pass up college. But that makes no sense for the thousands and thousands of young athletes who will never make it to the pros. And even those lucky few need to understand that a career in athletics is fleeting — education isn't.

Although I entered the NBA draft after my junior year at Louisiana State University in 1992, I later took correspondence courses to earn my bachelor's degree. Education matters. It instills self-discipline. It exposes a person to a world of shared knowledge. It forces us to stay attuned to current events. And most important, it helps each of us understand how and where we fit into this world.

My doctoral degree from Barry is in Organizational Learning and Leadership, with a specialization in Human Resource Development. People won't be surprised to learn that my doctoral project was titled: "How Leaders Utilize Humor or Seriousness in Leadership Styles." I'm a big believer in the power of humor, particularly in stressful situations.

But this is no laughing matter. If there's one thing I hope people take from this personal milestone, it's that education matters for your entire life. A degree, whether high school or doctoral, is not a finish line; it's simply a mile-marker. My learning will continue. I want others to come along for the ride.

Shaquille O'Neal is a retired 15-time NBA all-star and member of four championship teams. He is a basketball commentator for TNT and has a variety of business interests.

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