“But as long as a man has the strength to dream … He can redeem his soul … and fly.”
— “If I Can Dream” as recorded by Elvis Presley
Sam Shepard passed away recently. He wrote more than 55 plays, appeared in more than 50 movies, and starred in a myriad of television roles. His portrayal of Chuck Yeager in "The Right Stuff" is my personal favorite.
As many know, Yeager shot down five German planes in one day in WWII, broke the sound barrier (Mach 1), and then broke it again (the gauge shattered somewhere past 2.4). But he was not considered for the Apollo astronaut program, partly because he lacked a college degree.
Those who were chosen were the subject of a wonderful movie, but Yeager was one of our country’s most talented pilots. In the film, Shepard is thrown from a horse and damages his ribs. Rather than pass on his flying opportunity the next morning, he utilizes a piece of broomstick to slam shut his cockpit door. Busted ribs and all, he then ascends to the clouds, breaks the sound barrier, and “chases that ol’ demon in the sky.”
I wasn’t there at Edwards Air Force Base in October of 1947 when Yeager flew the “Glorious Glennis” (named after his wife) faster than the speed of sound, so I don’t know to what extent Hollywood embellished certain aspects of the film. But I do know this: Chuck Yeager’s courage, independence and raw skill are qualities that represent the best part of American ingenuity.
That Yeager lacked a college degree may have hindered his entrance into the Apollo program. Certainly completing a college education is a tremendously beneficial accomplishment. Warren Buffet (MS in economics from Columbia Business School) earned one. So did Jeff Bezos (BA in science from Princeton) of Amazon, and Michael Bloomberg (MBA from Harvard Business School).
But Bill Gates of Microsoft was a Harvard dropout. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame failed to finish there, also. Michael Dell of Dell Technologies matriculated but did not graduate from the University of Texas at Austin. Harold Hamm, an oil and gas billionaire, never attended college.
Some entrepreneurs are so motivated and inspired that they can’t wait to finish college — they are compelled to begin their career journey immediately. We all hope our offspring will earn a degree, but we should probably remember it’s a means to an end, and not achieving one doesn’t mean they can’t reach for great heights.
Business success is a meritocracy; consumers don’t ask about the educational background of product inventors. The challenges facing the American economy require innovation, creative instinct and fierce work ethic from any and all who can contribute. The idea is to achieve, with or without a diploma.
Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC®, AIF®, author of the syndicated economic column “Arbor Outlook,” is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850.608.6121 – www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin.