By the time you read this, Niki and I will be in Kansas City, Missouri. On Wednesday, September 18, I will be giving the opening keynote for the Epilepsy Foundation Leadership Conference. From there we are headed to Indianapolis for the annual Indy Disney Meet.
Most Disney fans, myself included, associate Kansas City with Walt Disney’s first studio, Laugh O’ Gram Studios. Kansas City is also home to Union Station, the same station where, following the bankruptcy, Walt boarded a train with $40, a single suitcase, and a one-way ticket to California. The rest, of course, is history.
While in town, Niki and I will make stops at Laugh O’ Gram Studios and Union Station. But I also want to take time to check out the Kansas City Library. A visit there is long overdue. Why? Because it was at this library that Walt Disney checked out a book that taught him everything he needed to know to begin his career in animation. “Finding that book was one of the most important and useful events in my life. It happened at just the right time.”
Walt valued the importance of learning the right things at the right time. His formal education never went past the 9th grade. Nonetheless, he was always challenging himself to learn as much on his own as possible.
He challenged others, too.
Disney Legend Bob Gurr once told me that after his successes with the cars in Autopia and the vehicles on Main Street, Walt wanted him to design the Matterhorn. Bob, hating roller coasters, tried to get out of the gig by saying, “I know nothing about roller coasters, Walt. I’m terrified of them and have never even been on one.”
Walt’s response? “Well, Bobby, it’s time you learn.”
The same thing happened to Sleeping Beauty Castle designer John Hench when Walt asked him to design the new Plaza Inn Restaurant. “Walt, I don’t know anything about designing restaurants.”
“Well, John, it’s time you learn.” Walt responded.
When Walt asked Xavier “X” Atencio to write the lyrics to a song that guests could sing while riding Pirates of the Caribbean, he too had nearly the exact same conversation, “But Walt, I don’t know anything about songwriting.”
“Well, Xavier, it’s time you learn.”
In the United States, September is “Back to School” time. But good luck figuring out when kids are actually due back in the classroom. It used to be that everyone returned right after the Labor Day Holiday. Today, some schools start as early as the first week of August, others still hold out for Labor Day, while some never stop at all…opting for a 12-month schedule with “mini” breaks throughout the year.
Adding to the confusion, the Governor of Virginia recently repealed the “Kings Dominion Law.” This law, dating back to 1986 and supported by theme park lobbyists and other businesses dependent on summer tourists, required school districts to wait until after Labor Day to start classes. Now, as long as students get a four-day Labor Day weekend, schools in Virginia can open as early as two weeks before the traditional Labor Day start.
There are arguments for and against starting in August vs. waiting until September. As an educator, I don’t think it matters either way. Why? Because the best lesson we can teach our children is that learning never needs a season. When you want to know something, you don’t have to wait for school to open, classes to start, or an assignment to be given.
As I was getting ready to teach my own classes this semester, I learned that my favorite professor, Dr. Stan Nelson, had died. I wrote about Dr. Nelson in my first book, The Wisdom of Walt. The story about the professor who recorded his lecture in advance of an absence and interrupted his instruction to admonish me to “stop looking out the window,” that was Dr. Nelson.
Dr. Nelson taught me a lot about life, faith, and theology. Mostly, he taught me the importance of education and life-long learning. “The saddest day of my life was the day I graduated with my Ph.D.,” he once said. “It was only then that I realized how much I don’t know.”
Despite the advent of the internet and living in the information age, I fear that we are learning less and less. Today, education is the one thing many Americans are willing to pay for, but most don’t truly want.
My challenge to you this week is to follow Walt’s example. Go to your local library and check out a book on a subject that sparks your own curiosity. I want to hear from you about your book, and I will check back with you in two weeks about the book I am reading.
If you don’t know where your local library is, don’t have a library card, or have never checked out a book…that’s okay.
It’s time you learn.
“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates’ loot on Treasure Island and at the bottom of the Spanish Main…and best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day of your life.”