The Miseducation Of TNC

My old editor and good friend David Carr gave this interview to the Washington Post and talked about how got where he is. His take on talking to college kids really struck. We have similar backgrounds, in terms of school. The big difference is that Carr actually graduated, while I threw my hands up and, well, went to work for Carr. It's funny, I remember telling him I was dropping out and he was basically like, "Dude, don't do it." Much like my Dad.

Anyway, I digress. (I have David Carr stories for days.) Here he is on talking to college kids, when you have a sketchy academic background:

I ended up at the University of Minnesota with a double major in psychology and journalism. It took me seven years to get through college, a B.A..... When I transferred to the big school I damn near flunked out.... I still have nightmares that I haven't graduated, that there is a hole in my transcript... I'm always nervous when I am on a college campus that someone is going to leap out and say, 'You didn't really graduate.'...
I'm on college campuses a lot now. In the last year I've been at Yale, I've been at Harvard, I've been at MIT. I've been speaking to fairly august groups and I always feel a fraud. I'm at a newspaper where there is ivy growing all over these desks. There are so many people who are so learned who have such significant academic backgrounds, and I really don't have that. ... But we find our way...

Yeah, basically. I think if you eliminated everyone here at Atlantis who went to an Ivy (or did a bid the New Republic) you would not have a magazine. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Nepotism is simplistic way of looking at it, and I can talk some about diversity in magazines, if you guys would like.

But on this point of education, it's an awkward feeling. I was at Medill last week talking to the kids about how to make it as a journalist, and it felt very wrong, because by my lights, you drop out of school, have a kid before your 25, don't marry the mother, move to New York mooching off her $30k a year salary, endure the understandable side glances from her mom (who I love), get fired/laid-off/quit three times in six years, eat some shit along the way and be lucky enough land in the arms of a magazine that's retooling itself.

I was talking to a friend last week who came to the talk and he made a great point. This field is about rolling the dice, and it's paramount that you give yourself as many chances as possible to toss those bones. It was easy for me, I was either going to write or drive a cab--probably both. I wasn't really capable of doing much else. So whenever I'm faced with a smart group of kids who could be doing something else, and making more money than me doing it, and they're asking for advice it's always weird. I feel like so much of my life is in spite of formal education.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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