Nothing like a rainy morning to start off the new school year.

I found myself standing in front of W.E. Chalmers Elementary School here on the east side of Gainesville early Wednesday morning. It was about 7 a.m. and I wasn’t even the first one there — several families had already found parking and were sheltered just outside the school doors, waiting for them to be unlocked. A few snapped pictures of their smiling kids while they waited.

I was just there to document the excitement. But in the days since, I’ve pondered how every parent celebrating the first day of school is sending an important message to their kids: Education matters.

My parents made sure I understood that. They helped me fall in love with reading and writing — two crucial skills for lifelong learning. I remember being allowed to get my very first library card at the age of 5 and making twice-weekly visits with my family to pick out some interesting new book to devour. Thanks to my parents’ influence, too, I consider my education unfinished to this day. How could you be done with learning when there’s still an entire world left to discover?

They also taught me to take responsibility for my own education. It’s the sort of attitude high school teachers wish every student would grasp, right? But it started young. I remember constantly asking why things were the way they were and being told to “go look it up.”

This was before the internet, but my parents had an old set of encyclopedias at home — two, actually — and made sure I used them often. I got used to flipping through the volumes to answer my own questions and in the process discovered so many more interesting things that I grew to enjoy following rabbit trails of information, much like clicking through links on websites like Wikipedia today.

Of course, I didn’t know at the time why my parents wouldn’t just give me the answers. Like every parent, they knew everything! Or so I thought. In hindsight I’m beyond grateful for their insistence that I learn to find the answers myself.

For one thing, that prepared me to be a journalist. But more than that, it prepared me for life.

Sarah Einselen is editor and general manager of the Gainesville Daily Register. Reach her at editor@gainesvilleregister.com.

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