You’re about to join thousands of other Kentucky students in donning graduation robes and mortarboards to be part of the annual rite of passage known as high school graduation. Just as in years past, there will be tears of joy and sighs of relief from parents and grandparents as they watch you move from one phase of life into young adulthood.
There will be commencement speeches filled with glowing remarks about your accomplishments over the past twelve or so years. There will be predictions of incredible success that we hope will become reality. There will be mortarboards tossed into the air in celebration.
And then, reality begins. Those unique headpieces cast skyward will all do the same thing: they will stop in mid-air and, just like the life that is before you, they will return to the earth and land in unexpected places. We like to think we know where our lives will take us but sometimes life has other ideas. We end up in very different places and circumstances than we imagined while that cap was soaring upward.
Most of you have been loved and cared for by your family, friends, teachers, and others. They’ve held you, kissed your booboos, wiped your mouth and your bottom, taught you, coached you, counseled you, driven you, fed you, clothed you, worked through every phase of your ever-changing maturity, and encouraged you. You’ve been the apple of their eye and the reason they smile when you walk into a room. You are their pride and joy.
We’ve got a lot of pride in you, too. We’ve been there and watched you. Your picture was probably in this newspaper as we covered your academic achievements, your ballgames, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs, and more. Now that you’re graduating, we look forward to seeing what you do with your life and the paths you’ll take as you embark on a new journey.
The reality that begins this week is that your life is probably going to be different than you imagined. Whether you are entering the workforce or continuing your education, you will likely find your boss, your new co-workers, and your college professors will treat you differently than what you’ve experienced so far.
Without a doubt, you and your classmates were told that you are unique, that you are special, that you will achieve great things. You were possibly told that you are “one in a million.” Have you considered that if that statement is true, and with 7.442 billion people on earth, there are more than 7,000 people just like you? If there are over 7,000 special people identical to you, the magnitude of your specialness diminishes rather quickly. That’s a reality of life.
It’s humbling to realize that even with all of your years of education and nurturing, your education is not finished — it’s just entering a new phase. You’ll likely discover how little you really know. You’ll discover, in time, that your mentors gave you some good advice along the way even if you chose to ignore it. You’ll realize that you will make mistakes, you will be disappointed, your heart will be broken, you’ll be cut down when you think you’ve got everything going for you. You will also learn that it’s okay because you will learn from those experiences and you will become a more authentic person.
As you move through life, you’ll discover that you must pursue life with determination and enthusiasm. Our country was founded on the principle that we are guaranteed the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s important to remember that you must pursue something rather than wait for it to come to you. Remember to get up and get busy — this world of ours needs you and the best you can give to make it better.
You will learn that there are more important reasons for doing something than because “it will look good on your resume.” You will learn that you gain more by doing things that benefit our society and others than you will by selfishly wondering “what do I get out of this?” You will learn that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason and you should use them in that proportion. You will learn that there’s nothing better than hard work, passionate play, loyalty, and enthusiasm; you will learn the value of those traits in others. You’ll learn the rewards of being as interested in others’ success as your own. You will realize that your education never ends, so embrace it daily.
Congratulations. Good luck. Go make extraordinary lives for yourself and others. We’re counting on you.
Sam Terry writes for the Barren County Progress in western Kentucky.