Message to the graduates 2017

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Column by Jim Clark

This is a yearly column, updated with latest information.

This week is big for many young people in Marion County, as they leave high school and move on to the next phase of their lives.

Graduation ceremonies are scheduled for local public high schools, a landmark day for a few hundred young adults who are ready to venture out into the world.

This graduating class has faced a different way of life than most of us. These young people were pre-schoolers on Sept. 11, 2001, when two planes smashed into the World Trade Center in New York, one hit the Pentagon and another crashed in Pennsylvania, changing the face of America forever.

They are venturing into an uncertain world, one filled with fear of terrorism, one filled with eroding freedoms in the name of security.

Those of us who have lived through many years of strife and conflict — and many years of prosperity and peace, can give some words of advice to the young graduates. Whether they pay attention is up to them, and whether they agree is also up to them. But at least it’s a point of view that they can use to steer them in whatever direction they want to go.

With just a few changes from the previous years’ columns, here we go:

1. If you have a chance to continue your education, by all means do so. In this era, it is almost impossible to advance yourself in the job market without some sort of post-secondary education. It can be college, junior college, trade school or specialized classes, but make sure you learn as much as you can. You’ve made it through one important period — you’ve got your high school diploma. Now look to see what else you can do to learn. Your brains are still relatively young — you have a better capacity to learn than many of us old dogs, who find it hard to learn new tricks.

2. If you go to college, learn the difference between opinion and fact from your professors. The good ones will make it clear for you — but there are some who will ram their thoughts down your throat, without making it clear that it’s what they think, not what the world accepts as truth.

3. If you haven’t already, develop a good work ethic. When it comes to studying and school assignments, the days of someone looking over your shoulder to make sure you are doing what you are supposed to are over. You’re on your own. Your education, or your job, are what you make them. Take a look at employment ads in almost every major field. They’ll say things like “self-starter” or “must work well without supervision.” Managers in the business world don’t want to have to watch every step that you do. Learn to work by yourself with maximum effort. Remember, the world doesn’t owe you a living — you have to go out and make your own mark.

4. Choose your friends wisely. Hang around with people who have good goals, who want to make a decent mark in this world. There was a great commercial on TV (I can’t remember what product it was for) where one guy in a group of wild young people gets a suit-and-tie job, so the others always want him to buy dinner, because they aren’t doing a thing. You will undoubtedly encounter some of these people — steer clear and be your own person. Some years later, these will be the folks who will come to you begging for a job.

5. Stay active. There will come a time in your life when you can’t exercise like you used to, but that day isn’t here yet for most of you. I’m afraid that we are producing a generation of computer-chair potatoes (as opposed to couch potatoes), those who do nothing but sit in front of a computer screen or play with a phone or tablet for all their free time. Get out and do something. You can walk, you can run, you can play a sport, you can swim — just do something. It’s good for your mind and your body.

6. Along that same line, learn how to talk to people, face to face. There is entirely too much Facebook, “Tweeting,” and other social networking going on, but sometimes young people have to talk to someone in person and they don’t know what to say, or how to behave. Get off the phone and the computer and speak to people. Someday when you’re interviewing for a job, it won’t be on Facebook. But someday during that same job interview, your potential boss is going to ask permission to look at your Facebook postings, and all that “cute” little stuff and foul language that some of you might use will come back to haunt you.

7. Volunteer in the community. There are all sorts of things that need doing. Some involve some physical work, others involve using your brains to help people. Give something back to the community — show that you care. You never know — someday you may be one of the people who needs help, and maybe there will be folks around who will recall what you did for others, and you’ll get some help in return. And don’t do it for the glory and the recognition. The best volunteers are those who work behind the scenes, who get nothing out of it but personal satisfaction.

8. Finally, keep the faith, and not just religious faith. If you are a religious person, you will be tested. Most of those who are religious find great solace in that faith, so don’t let yourself get tempted away from it. But there is another kind of faith, faith in your fellow human beings, faith in the country. Be aware of the times you live in, for sure, but realize there are so many places in the world that are worse off than we are.

While we live in the fear that there could be another attack on us somewhere in the U.S., there are people who live with the very real fear of being blown up every day. While we have medical care available to us when we get sick, there are people who succumb to the least little illness because their bodies can’t fight diseases, or they have no access to things as simple as an aspirin.

As you depart from high school, thank your teachers, your counselors, your school employees. They surely don’t get rich doing what they do, but almost all of them love their profession. Someday you will realize how good the days of high school were. But for now, you’ve reached your goal of getting your diploma, which is a job well done.


Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen and West Marion Messenger.