Sunday marks the end of my one-week Spring Break so it’s back to school tomorrow [deep groan]. Yet, with only five weeks left in the semester, I delight in the realization that my four-month summer vacation is just around the corner.
These last days of winter are filled with birds chirping in the morning, fresh green tulip sprouts poking out of the thawing earth, the sun revealing itself more often from behind the clouds…all signs of approaching spring, as is the intensifying preparation for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks. So, how does one begin to accumulate, process, and ultimately assess the massive amount of material related to all the possible contenders?
My experience as a college professor tells me there are several types of students. First, regrettably, there are those who should not be in college at all. Either they or their parents wrongly assume that a bachelor’s degree is necessary or well within their grasp. Usually after the first exam (which they fail) they either drop the class or stop coming altogether, content to enjoy the freedoms and social life of a college student without consideration for the long-term implications. They get put on academic probation or drop out after that first semester; either way, they are there for all the wrong reasons, and you can’t waste your time on them because they always disappoint you.
You also have those who excelled in high school, usually bright but not necessarily challenged before. Some of them start off well, usually an “A” or “B” on the first exam, but after that they slack off, content to cruise through the semester with minimal effort exerted. They do fine, but are not the best of the best. When challenged intellectually, they tend to close up since no one ever taught them to think for themselves or dispute the status quo. Oft-praised before, it shocks them to realize that they don’t know everything already, but inevitably they do just enough to get by—as they will likely do in the “real world” after school.
On the other hand, you have those students who may or may not have displayed ability previously—some were at the top of their high school class, but others were very middle-of-the-road. For them, higher education is a revelation, an exciting opportunity to stretch their minds and they relish the challenge. With every assignment, they demonstrate improvement. These are the ones who surprise you when you least expect it, and make getting up in the morning to go to work worthwhile.
College students are like three-year-old race horses. Just as well-prepared students from good families hold advantages over their less fortunate (i.e. poorer) classmates, so too do those better bred and better trained horses. Yet, breeding isn’t everything. There’s that intangible combination of raw talent and desire that separates the good from the very good, and the superior from those. Some with early talent as two-year-olds fail to live up to high expectations at three; others are simply late blooming, learning and improving day after day, week after week, until they stand out as the best. Unfortunately, for various reasons, favorites fall by the wayside, yet another potential contender always seem to pop up to replace him or her. That’s what makes horse racing exciting, and that’s why I wake up every day a racing fan.
This week I'll update my Derby contenders list and reveal my early Kentucky Oaks preferences.