Humor by Greg Schwem

My daughter burst through the front door, dropped her backpack, grabbed a handful of potato chips and flopped on the couch.

A typical after-school entrance.

I tepidly approached. "Any homework tonight?"


A typical after-school response.

"Are you still carrying an 'A' in physics?"

"Unfortunately, yes."


"Don't get used to it Dad. By Christmas break, I'll be failing physics."

"What do you mean, you'll be failing it? It's your favorite subject."

"If I don't fail it, I'll never win the Nobel Prize."

"Come again?"

"John Gurdon, Dad," she said before increasing the TV volume. "Google him."

When your teenage daughter orders you to Google something, it's best to do it. How else to understand the adolescent mind's inner workings? I once came home to find her suspended face down between two kitchen chairs on the driveway while her girlfriend snapped photos.

"Planking, Dad. Google it," she said, knowing full well that I was not yet privy to the (thankfully) brief craze that involved lying down in public places with arms extended and documenting it via social networks.

So, I retreated to my office, searched "John Gurdon" and discovered that SIR John Gurdon was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. By the way, the "or" is really in the title, which I find strange. Shouldn't it be Physiology AND Medicine? Why not separate prizes for each? In baseball you don't win a Gold Glove for fielding OR hitting.

Had there been an "I told you so" category, the 79-year-old Gurdon would have two Nobel prizes for, as numerous articles stated, Gurdon was told he would never become a scientist. The world knows this only because Gurdon started blabbing about it during his press conference, informing anybody who cared to listen that his science teacher at Eton Academy flunked him, ranked him last in the class and told him he couldn't learn simple biological facts.

Fast forward 64 years and there was Gurdon, humbly accepting his profession's highest honor for his pioneering work in stem cell research.

"This stinks," I thought. Just when the world had grown tired of the Bill Gates "I dropped out of Harvard to start a software company and look at me today!" story, along comes Sir John and now I have to defend the value of a good education all over again.

"Are you planning to apply this failing grades approach to all your subjects?" I asked my daughter.

"No, just the ones I'm interested in," she said. "I really like Spanish."

"Where's your Spanish book?"

"Just sold it on eBay."

"Young lady, do you seriously believe that failure in school leads to success outside of school? The way I'm interpreting Mr. Gurdon's story. . ."

"Sir John."

"Whatever. Sir John is saying you should never let anybody stand in the way of your dreams. If somebody says you won't succeed, use that as motivation to work harder."

"That's not how I'm interpreting it."

"No kidding."

"Look, Dad, college is going to cost about $100,000. Are you aware of that?"

"Only every moment that I'm awake."

"Right. So how does this sound? I drop out of school now and you use my college savings to send me to Cambridge."

"Cambridge? As in Cambridge University? In England? I'm fairly certain that school requires a high school diploma."

"That's where Sir John Gurdon does his research," she said excitedly. "I'll knock on his door and tell him I want to be just like him! Maybe I can get an internship or something."

"Sure. And on the second day maybe you'll get engaged to Prince Harry."

"Don't be ridiculous, Dad."

"Funny, I was about to say the same thing to you."

"Face it, Dad, a college degree isn't all it's cracked up to be anymore. Did you know Walt Disney never went to college? Neither did John D. Rockefeller. Or Simon Cowell."

"Really? I could have sworn Cowell owns a masters in self-importance," I said. "You know who did go to college? Sergey Brin and Larry Page."

"Who are they?"

"Google them."

"I waited while she tapped the names on her iPhone. "Oh, they founded Google. Very funny, Dad."

"I wasn't trying to be funny. Only logical."

"Just let me coast through high school. I won't fail, OK? C's and D's ought to be lousy enough to achieve some worldwide notoriety."

"No deal. You are going to study hard, make good grades and go to college. Get a degree in physics if that's what you love. Then go after that Nobel Prize."

"OK, but just remember that I tried to save you a hundred grand. You and mom could have spent that on something else."

"Like what?"

"Maybe some stem cells?"

Humorist Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author of Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad

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