My most lasting lesson from one semester as a student at the University of South Carolina and two at the College of Charleston:

Though you could get away with cutting lots of classes at those schools way back then, that risky habit produced serious consequences when indulged in reckless excess.

My most lasting lesson from two years as a student at Trident Technical College (TTC):

If you thought that there weren't a lot of smart people taking - and teaching - classes there, you were wrong.

And if you're a fellow Trident Tech grad and Post and Courier reader, you likely liked Amanda Kerr's deservedly upbeat Friday front-page story about our old school preparing to graduate its 50th class that night.

As the article reported, one of the school's first students, Bobby Clair, earned a certificate in industrial drafting and design from what was then Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Technical Education Center (TEC) in 1965, then added an associate's degree in civil engineering technology from there in 1967. Clair, who called "being a part" of the school "a real privilege," rose to the directorship of engineering and special projects for the S.C. Department of Transportation and played a significant role in the design and building of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.

As for me, this 1975 Trident Tech grad (associate's degree in chemical engineering technology) recalls through the hazy fog of time that cutting even a few classes there was not a viable option.

The same realization quickly hit home at Clemson, where my checkered academic career finally ended with a history degree in 1979 after a major switch from chemical engineering.

In the 3 decades since my last class at Clemson, additional lessons about higher education have followed, including:

The most prestigious colleges hold no monopoly on outstanding students, graduates and faculty members. Plus, some grads from those most highly rated schools don't verify their alma maters' lofty status.

The tests of time

Sure, a good education is more important than ever. And getting into a top school is a worthy goal.

Yet you don't have to attend Clemson, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford or any other widely renowned college to get a high-quality higher education.

And tests taken in youth shouldn't prematurely - and permanently - label anybody smart, stupid or in between.

Unfortunately, over the last two decades, growing numbers of Americans across a vast age range have been stressing out over which students get into which colleges. Some parents and kids even sweat out over who gets into some K-12 schools. High school students are increasingly pressured to post higher SAT and ACT scores, along with higher class rankings, to get into "better" colleges. Colleges are pressured to boost entering SAT and ACT scores to get higher national rankings.

Meanwhile, kids branded smart are prone to getting big heads, and kids branded not so smart are prone to lowering self-expectations.

And that's stupid.

Back to Trident Tech:

That school, created as part of a statewide technical-college initiative wisely spearheaded more than a half century ago by then-Gov. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (The Citadel, Class of 1942), retains an impressive reputation for training job-ready grads.

Sure, as English critic/philosopher William Hazlitt wrote roughly two centuries ago, "Learning is its own exceeding great reward."

But with our 21st century labor-force-participation rate dwindling, and with many job openings lacking the skilled workers needed to fill them, TTC's strong STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) focus is a valuable and rising local and state asset.

Back to 1975: Shortly before my Trident Tech graduation, Duke Power offered me a job as a lab technician assessing water quality by a power-plant construction site near Charlotte.

Instead, I went Clemson.

And many Trident Tech grads still go from there to four-year colleges.

No, not all students can become brain surgeons, rocket scientists, bridge project managers, tycoons, community organizers, professional wrestlers or editorial writer/columnists.

Yet all students should be taught that the "exceeding great reward" of lifelong learning - in and out of job-preparation education - isn't limited to the kids at the top of their high school classes.

That's an enduring lesson at Trident Tech, Clemson, USC, the College of Charleston, The Citadel, Charleston Southern, S.C. State and every other school in and beyond our state.

A night in the box

To my everlasting chagrin, Thursday's column opened with a misquoted quote.

The actual wording from Captain (played by Strother Martin) in the 1967 film classic "Cool Hand Luke":

"What we've got here is failure to communicate."

Such wretched irony - a failure to accurately communicate that epic "failure to communicate" line.

Thanks, though, to the numerous readers who sounded alarms over the mistake, triggering a timely online fix.

But please, refrain from lacing future corrective alerts with hurtful insults, lest you further injure my ever-vulnerable self-esteem.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.