Below is a speech I gave to the Western Highlands Students at the University of Goroka on their Introduction Night for the 2009 Academic Year. It is taken from my book "Why Study Hard?".
There are four main stages in a person’s life. The first stage can be called the childhood years. This stage starts from birth to around 7 years. This is followed by ages 7 to 24 (16 years), which correspond with the years a child is in school. Then comes the working years. This stage lasts around 30 years. The final stage is the retirement and old age years, from 55 to 65 years (10 years).
Basically we spend 7 years of carefree life followed by 16 years in school. The following 30 years are occupied with making a living either from a job or self-employment, followed by 10 years of rest, for a total of 40 years after school.
Someone has described the first two stages as the “learning” years. These are the stages where we learn about the world in preparation for the next stage which he called the “earning” years, when people work for their living. The final stage has been described as the “yearning” years, when people sit down and wish that they were young again, or contemplate on the many opportunities which they had missed in their younger years. These are the years when grandparents tell their grandchildren stories about their own lives, stories of valour and failure, sometimes stories of their own lives disguised as legends that took place in some faraway place in some far off time.
The four stages of life can be summarized as follows:
0-24 Childhood/Schooling (“Learning”)
25–55 Work (“Earning”)
55–65 Retirement/Old Age (“Yearning”)
The forty years after school can be divided into four quarters of 10 years each as follows:
25 – 35 First Quarter
36 – 45 Second Quarter
46 – 55 Third Quarter
56 – 65 Fourth Quarter
We all go through these stages, and that only once in our life time. We cannot live our childhood years again, nor can we relive the earning years. Likewise, we cannot rewind the clock and live the learning years. We live only once, and we can make the most of them or lose the opportunities presented to us at each stage.
We grow old with each passing day. That is why we ask people, “How old are you?” (Although I have had a few positive-minded people ask me “How young are you?”) When we ask that question, we are looking for an answer in terms of the number of years the person has lived since being born into the world. But the truth is that years are made up of months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds. If you really think about it, we grow old with each tick of the clock’s second hand.
You can do everything in your power to disguise the effects of time on your life but you cannot reverse it. I see many elderly people dyeing their hair to hide the grayness or whiteness of their hair, but disguise and pretend is all they can do. In their hearts they know how old they are, and how their hair really is. Women can spend all their money to buy all kinds of cosmetics to maintain their beauty and sense of youthfulness, but a few days without such make-up betrays how old and ugly they really are.
I was born in 1965. At time of writing (2008), I am 43 years old. I can never go back to my year of birth. It has come and gone, never to return again. The year 2008 has come and will likewise go. There was never a year like it, and there will never be a year like it. I can use it well, like writing this book, or laze around and watch it come and go.
TIME: USE IT OR LOSE IT
Time is a very important and unique resource. When we are young, we have time on our side. When we become old, time runs out on us. And the thing about time, which is different from other resources, is that it moves on. We cannot conserve it and use it later like we can do with natural resources like trees, gold and oil, or even money. We cannot save it for future use. We can delay doing things, but we cannot delay time from passing. It marches on. We either use it as best as we can for our own good or lose it for good.
MISSED OR MESSED-UP OPPORTUNITIES NEVER REAPPEAR
The point I want to make is this: When you mess up the opportunities that are presented to you, you mess them up for good. Life does not give you a second chance. Time does not wait for you.
You may seem to get a second or third chance, but never under the same circumstances. For instance, you may have a second chance to become educated through distance learning, but this is not the same as being in school with the same classmates, teachers, etc.
Many students do not realize that there are thousands of young people in the country who regret that they messed up their studies when they were students. Today these people look back and wish that they could rewind their lives and be given a second chance to be in school.
Unfortunately, to be a student between the ages of 16 to 25 is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Nobody gets a second chance at being a young student again. It is therefore imperative that you do your best and gain as much knowledge as you can while you have the opportunity now.
REAL-LIFE STORIES OF MISSED OPPORTUNIIES
I have met many people who have said that if they were given another chance to get a good education, they would grab the opportunity with both hands. I have also met drop-outs who look at their classmates who have succeeded academically, with envy and even jealousy. Such people are filled with regret for the rest of their lives.
Recently, I received a letter from a young lady who had to leave her university studies because she got pregnant out of wedlock. She related the struggles she was facing because her boy friend deserted her when he discovered that she was pregnant. The boy did not want to take responsibility for the child she was carrying because he was also a student who didn’t have an income to support a family. He was so afraid that he broke the relationship the day she told him she was expecting. He went on with his studies, but she was forced to withdraw from her studies.
She lost her HECAS scholarship when she withdrew, and at the time she wrote to me, she was living with her parents. She could not return to continue her education after weaning the child, because her parents refused to pay her fees. She was therefore forced to look for a job to care for her child as well as to pay her fees to return to school.
She regretted entering into a broken relationship which resulted in her being set back in life by years. Had she concentrated on her studies and not become distracted by friendships, she would have graduated and got a job. She would also have gotten married properly. But now that she was a single mother, there was not much hope of her getting married to a young man. All she could do was to look for a man who was already married or a widower, or else stay single for good.
There is something I have noticed about men and women in Papua New Guinea, which is this: Married men and men who have been married before but do not have wives for reasons such as the wives having died or deserted them, can easily marry young women who are virgins. On the other hand, not many women that have married in the past or entered into de facto relationships with men, get married to young men. Only in rare cases do we see women who have been married in the past remarrying with young men. In almost all cases such women get married to men that have already married, but the women don’t enjoy the relationships because there are always other women in these men’s lives.
That is why if you are a young girl, you have to exercise a lot of self-control while at school. You are there to get educated, not to look for boyfriends. Once you start fooling around, you will not only perform poorly but also end up leaving school prematurely. And once people know that you have gone around with men, you will never regain their respect for you. You will lose your dignity, possibly for good. You will only be treated as “second-hand” by people.
I received another letter from a young man who related how he was expelled from school because of drunkenness on campus grounds. He had gone out on a weekend and had been invited to a party by some friends, at which alcohol was served freely. He returned to his dormitory while being intoxicated, and got involved in an argument with some other students who were also drunk. A fight broke out during which school property was damaged. He was among those who were expelled by the disciplinary committee.
When he wrote to me, he regretted what had happened but the damage had been done to his life. He said he was thinking positively and was trying to move on with life, but he would regret messing his studies as long as he lives.
I know of several young men who either got expelled or failed their exams because of involvement in cult activities and drugs. There are also stories of young men flunking their studies because of too much involvement with sports or student politics.
I also know of young men and women who have had to leave school and die from contracting HIV/AIDS. I have heard of frightening statistics of students from primary school to university who have tested positive to HIV/AIDS. Soon the country will stand and watch helplessly while these young people suffer and slowly have their lives snuffed out by this dreaded disease. It will be one of the most moving tales of wasted life.
Real-life stories of missed opportunities and life-long regret as I have recounted above highlight the fact that opportunities come to you only once in life. You either make the most of them when they come to you or miss them, never to have the same opportunities come your way again.
IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
I have preached many sermons in the church over the years that have impacted the lives of my listeners as well as my own. Many of these messages are memorable, meaning that people cannot forget them. One such message I preached in September 2003 was titled “If not here, where? If not now, when?”
In this message, I challenged people to appreciate the fact that we all live on the earth for only a short time. Living in Goroka, in Papua New Guinea, was by divine appointment and not by the will of man. People should therefore thank God and do all they could to promote the interest of His kingdom while they have the strength and are alive. When they become old or die, they will not have the chance to serve God as they can when they are young and alive.
This message is relevant to you as a student as well. If you are not going to work hard in school, in which area of life will you work hard? The answer is obvious: You are a student right now. So you can only work hard in your studies. And if you are not going to work hard in your school work now, when are you going to do so? Next term? Next year? No, let it be this term, this year. Next term or next year might never come.
Let me repeat: Being in school is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don’t mess it up. Do not let the opportunity you have now to be in school and study pass you by. Take full advantage of it. If not now, when?