This is an exciting time of year for the hundreds of grads in the Golden Triangle. From kindergarten to high school to college and beyond, happy students are tossing mortar boards into the air and jumping for joy. This celebration is shared by parents, grandparents and siblings. All of these folks have reason to enjoy the festivity. After all, like the tired cliche about taking a village to raise a child, it takes a ton of people to help one person graduate.
Graduates, you have a right to feel proud of yourselves. You wrote the papers, took the tests and attended the classes. But, don’t forget to give some of that credit to the people who paid your tuition, encouraged you, ran a taxi service, laundry, 24-hour kitchen and who knows what else to help you get this far.
I wonder if anyone ever thanks the teachers and professors? For the most part, we are thrilled to leave them behind. They chose a challenging profession, and certainly not for the generous salaries. Pat Conroy said, “The great teachers fill you up with hope and shower you with a thousand reasons to embrace all aspects of life.” (“My Losing Season: A Memoir”)
Sadly, I remember the not-so-great teachers the most. I had a teacher in junior high who predicted that we would all grow up to be garbage men. My apologies to those in that honorable profession. Kurt Vonnegut was on their side when he said, “Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” (“Hocus Pocus”) In college, one teacher screamed at the class, calling us “stupid.” I shed no tears when she died.
High school grads have to decide on whether they will enter the work force or go to college. Venturing into higher education creates the dilemma of choosing a major, preferably one that will not only provide enough income to pay off student loan debt, but to also insure a comfortable life. Good luck with that.
My advice to graduates (besides to ignore advice) is not to worry about what you will do for the rest of your life. Choose a direction that will make you happy for the next few years. Life hands us a lot of twists and turns. You can select another path at any time.
We have all heard the stories of lawyers becoming writers, politicians becoming lobbyists, or career women opting for motherhood at the height of their success. These days, retired people are taking up painting or baking or working to save the environment. My argument is that you don’t have to wait for retirement. You can make a switch at any time.
Happiness is in your own hands. And remember, it isn’t all about your bank account. Think about the people who choose education as a vocation. They made choices based on accomplishment and personal satisfaction. We could all do a lot worse.
So, I send enthusiastic congratulations to the graduates, and all the people who helped them to this notable achievement. Enjoy your proms and parties and gifts. Do not worry too much about forever, unless, of course, you choose to be a teacher. Their legacy goes on for decades.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.