A Great College Coach on How to Really Be Educated

By Jack Limpert


Al McGuire knew there was a lot of real life outside the college classroom.

“I think everyone should go to college and get a degree and then spend six months as a bartender and six months as a cabdriver. Then they would really be educated.”

—Al McGuire, college basketball coach whose Marquette team won a national championship.
During five years of occasionally attending classes at the University of Wisconsin, I tended bar on nights and weekends, serving drinks at places from country clubs to shot-and-a-beer bars. I made good money, met a lot of people, and ended up agreeing with Al McGuire that you often can learn more walking around behind the bar than sitting in a classroom.

It also can find you a job. After Wisconsin, I went to law school, learning only that being a lawyer wasn’t for me. The bartending work—in particular, serving a few drinks to the president of United Press International news service—got me into journalism, first with UPI and a couple of newspapers and then at the Washingtonian magazine.

Working as a bartender makes you realize that people come with a wonderful variety of charms and flaws. Dealing with drinkers also helps you develop a pretty good B.S. detector.

It affected how I evaluated candidates for The Washingtonian’s internship program—about 20 young people a year. My instinct was to look more at work history than academics. One dealbreaker was the kid whose only work history was spending every summer as a lifeguard at a country club pool. I looked for college students who had worked at something that gave them a feel for people who didn’t have it easy.

There were bonus points for military service but by the 1980s it seemed no prospective young journalist ever had served. A few months of standing at attention, being yelled at, and living with all kinds of recruits also is an education.

Speak Your Mind