By Bill Webb, Word&Way Editor
In case you hadn’t noticed, it is graduation season. And that is no small thing to graduates and their families. Indeed, recognition these days extends down to preschoolers, some of them “graduating” in little caps and gowns. It is a good thing to take note of educational achievement.
Graduation remains a live issue in our family; my wife is an educator. She attends graduation ceremonies at the high school where she is a guidance counselor. She has a vested interest in hundreds of those students. She has a good idea of the hard work of most, and she is aware of the adversity many of the students have overcome in earning a diploma.
For most students, graduation is a relief. At least one level of formal education is complete, even if more are still ahead. But I’m not sure if students today can avoid looking ahead — sometimes years ahead — as they strive to achieve. Many high school students find that pressure mounts long before graduation.
Helping high school students do well on ACT tests has become a big industry. And the pressure to do well has become significant — to students and to their parents. It is easy to see why. ACT scores help determine whether or not a student will be accepted at a choice college or university. ACT scores can help determine whether or not a student receives particular scholarships.
Help is certainly available, usually at a price, to enable a student to do his or her best. It is not unusual for a student to take the exam more than once in hopes of achieving a score acceptable to the students, the parents and target colleges and universities. But the pressure can take its toll in many ways.
A syndicated advice columnist dealt with an issue recently that was completely foreign to me. The subject was “prom babies.” Here’s how this social problem plays out: Some female high school students plan to become pregnant on their prom night. While there probably are many reasons teens seek “prom babies,” one seems to be to avoid the pressure of going through the nerve-wracking process of getting into college and meeting the high expectations once there.
Ironically, the decision to instead have a child without the benefit of marriage and the ability to support the child apparently seems rational to many of these young people. Without a doubt, the pressure they feel is very real, well beyond what those of us from previous generations experienced.
College grads face their own challenges when they realize high-level employment is not a given once they earn undergraduate and even graduate degrees. Sacrifice for an education does not guarantee financial success once the degree is in hand, and perhaps it never did. Those who prepare for religious vocations in seminaries need only look around at unrest in denominational bodies and in local churches to see that the life of a minister is not without its own threats to personal well-being.
So how do families, friends and even churches respond when loved ones graduate in today’s world?
We rejoice. Personal achievement should always be acknowledged and celebrated. It represents hard work, and that should always be rewarded. Few tasks are easy in this world, and that certainly holds true for educational pursuits, no matter how satisfying they are to a student.
Succeeding in school may be harder today than it was when some of us were active students. That doesn’t mean that the standards have gotten higher; many would argue that they have not. But students are confronted by more and more distractions, just as the rest of us are. Success against such odds needs to be celebrated.
We encourage. Graduation is not the end; it is the beginning. The world is filled with new levels of instability today. The world my children and my grandchildren face is fraught with the danger to compromise unnecessarily, to fudge on our ethics and to trample others to pursue our own agendas. The idealism gained in a classroom need not be sacrificed in the real world. Most of us need encouragement to guard high standards.
We pray. Prayer encourages. It garners power that is otherwise unavailable. Prayer applies a loving pressure for a friend or loved one to strive to remain in the will of God. Prayer does not require a physical presence to touch the heart of another. Prayer changes things and it changes people. Sometimes prayer smooths the way; other times it brings strength to navigate a tough journey.
Congratulations to all our graduates. We salute your hard work. We pray that God will bless you and that you always will stay close to Him. (5-31-07)