The Myth of the Magic Piece of Paper

The Myth of the Magic Piece of Paper

June 12, 2012 Diary 0

When I was young, all I wanted were medals and pieces of paper to tell me that I was awesome. I still have a whole portfolio of certificates and medals to tell me that I was great in debate, mathematics, science, and writing.

When I was young, I loved looking at that portfolio. It seemed to scream, loud and clear, that I was excellent.

And then I went to grad school … and everything changed.

I’ve found that a certificate tells me that I attended classes, got a good grade on my exams, and then graduated with lots of nice grades decorating my transcript. A certificate doesn’t really tell me that I know how to use the theories that I spent hours learning. A certificate doesn’t make me an expert on genetic engineering. A certificate doesn’t measure my abilities.

A certificate is a piece of paper that tells me that God gave me a gift, and I was able to use it by producing human-measurable results that were deemed excellent by human standards.

A diploma is a piece of paper that tells me that I went to several classes, took courses, passed them, and impressed my professors so much, they decided that I needed a piece of paper to tell me that.

A certificate – a diploma – even a certification … they’re all paper.

I was running after pieces of paper.

There’s nothing wrong with a diploma. Don’t get me wrong. But I can’t stomach people flaunting their credentials as though certificates were the only things that mattered. I no longer get the obsession over certificates and certification, where those who don’t have any are treated far less favorably than those that do regardless of ability.

I’ve met people who have all the abilities but no certificates. They didn’t have enough money to earn a certification, but they still had the know-how to get things done. I’ve met dancers, writers, web designers, and artists who had far more abilities, stronger work ethics, and beautiful products to show – without graduating from anywhere with any kind of certificate whatsoever.

Of course, I wouldn’t put my fate in the hands of a doctor who didn’t go through medical school, nor would I go into a trial with a lawyer who didn’t pass the bar. There are some professions that do require some form of examination and certification. There are other professions that don’t always need them.

A certificate doesn’t make you a dancer, a painter, a sculptor, a web designer, or even a mentor. It will probably make you a technician, or an instructor. But no certificate will tell you that you are an artist.

A certificate doesn’t make you a brilliant researcher. It will designate you as a professor. It will probably attach a PhD to the end of your name. But no certificate will tell you that you are a scientist.

Not all certificates will tell me that I can trust you. A certificate might tell me that you are a professional, but no certificate will ever be a guarantee of professionalism.

In one of my latest blog posts, I chided a certain media personality for muddling race, citizenship, ability, and integrity. I believe that there is confusion, too, where certifications are concerned. Allow me to paraphrase myself.

Are certifications so important? No – one’s academic pedigree means nothing in the face of what people do AFTER they earn their degrees. Their certifications are mere pieces of paper. Their achievements and contributions to society – and the beauty of their art … these are what truly define them.