Frankly, I was relieved that there were no high school graduates among my family members this year; I would have been hard-pressed to offer them any degree of encouragement. But like most people who have known America in better times, I feel obligated to let young people know that things have not always been this way.
There was a time when Americans understood the importance of education. Things went wrong when folks began to equate quality with quantity and when individuals were led to believe that the more material goods they had, the happier their lives would be. While most of us know the fallacy of that kind of thinking, the rationale behind getting a good education became getting a well-paying job. Then, along came changes in technology, major drug-trafficking, high-salaried professional sports and entertainment careers. Suddenly education is no longer necessary to earn a lot of money — so, guess what? Incredibly, the definition of a successful life changed for most people.
Adults used to be in charge of children. Children were told they had rights and before they were mature enough to know how to exercise them responsibly, they were given the freedom to do so. Now we have a growing population of abandoned and neglected children falling daily into harm’s way.
We live in a world far removed from the one many of us grew up in. And standing on the threshold of the future, these days seem a scary place to be. Oh, I’m sure if you’re 17 years old, bursting with vim and vigor, it all looks bright and beautiful. I, too have been there and done that but, of course, now I’m older, more experienced and have more information about the world situation.
I would hope and pray that the graduates’ parents have helped them get a firm foundation in religion and ethics. Our world is becoming so materialistic and greed-driven that it will require supreme will and effort not to succumb to the temptation to join the crowd and taste the temporary fruits of ill-gotten gains. In the final game plan, a well-nurtured spirit may be the only true defense against tyranny. Lucky you, if your parents were wise and had vision.
I would suggest that my college-bound friends load up on languages, particularly French and German, in addition to their major courses. There is a possibility they may have to seek employment in another country. I would advise them to learn about other cultures, including the people, their history and their politics. And I would suggest that they make an effort to learn about their own country, from its founding to the present day. For the sake of their children, they will need to explain how things came to be the way they are.
I would suggest that those who stay become politically astute, begin early to organize like-minded individuals, build coalitions and set about to rebuild the country on the foundation established by its founders. I hope they can profit from the mistakes of past generations and avoid excesses in all endeavors. Perhaps, through education and experience, they will be able to distinguish the difference between freedom and license.
Teenagers who are determined to succeed as productive individuals are to be much admired and congratulated. I am certainly not proud of the world we have shaped for them. I think they at least deserve the pleasant world many of us shared in the last days of the 20th century, before the country went mad.
When I graduated from high school our principal told us there was a “bear” ready to grab us as soon as we walked out the door. He advised us to be watchful and wary. Well, the “bear” is still out there. He has grown bigger, taller and more notorious.
My advice is walk faster, smile more and pray every step of the way.
You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.