Graduation is in the air. Ironically, while the job market may look a bit sparse to college graduates in general and to some high school diploma recipients, this is a good season for the graduation industry.
Graduations are almost as prevalent as spring flowers. These days, they begin at the preschool level and continue through middle school, high school and on through college, seminary, trade schools, etc.
Many of us chuckled when we first saw pre-elementary students wind up their “careers” as preschoolers and accept diplomas while dressed in pint-size caps and gowns. Perhaps we wondered whether such events were inspired by greeting card companies, toy stores, ice cream and cake companies, and the like.
These days, it seems, high school seniors are pretty experienced at crossing the stage to accept a diploma. They are true experts at graduation by the time they have logged a few more years of hard work to earn the right to clutch a frameable degree on a university stage.
All kidding aside, incremental recognition of these educational rites of passage is a positive development in contemporary culture. Celebrating educational progress is one of the best things families, communities, churches and cultures can do for a number of reasons.
To celebrate productive endeavors in anyone’s life is a way to affirm that individual as a person of worth. Not everyone is gifted the same. Locally and globally, each person’s circumstances and opportunities vary. Motivation and personal ability varies. Some excel with less effort than others. Some work hard to achieve at minimal levels. Society tends to elevate those who score highest and overlook those who perhaps strive the hardest with less success to show for the work. “Well done” should apply more widely than we typically use this compliment.
Hard work is not the only demand for students. College and university studies are expensive. While scholarships lessen the economic blow, many students find themselves with mountains of student loans as they graduate. It is no small responsibility to take on such burdens in pursuit of educational goals.
Celebrating educational milestones also affirms the value of educational pursuits. Every person needs the basic tools for living. The structure of the educational experience helps students in thousands of ways to maximize their God-given talents and abilities. Education is valuable, and it is to be valued.
Education helps the educated grow as people who see potential not only for themselves but for the larger world. Many of us grew up in a time and in circumstances in which our parents were keenly aware that education could help their children be more successful than Mom and Dad. That often was translated financially. Life would not be as hard for children as their parents. The children could experience the “American dream” at a level their parents could not. For many of us, education was identified as the gold key for potential economic success.
What often happens in educational pursuit is that students — young and not so young — see the potential not only for themselves but for others. Students see their lives best lived when integrated into the larger world, often through service vocations. Their goals are not limited to making good livings but helping improve the community, nation and the world.
Obviously, this expands education to include not only the classroom and teachers and profs but parents, friends, spiritual institutions and leaders, and others. Those who are best educated in life sit at the feet of a wide variety of “schoolmasters” in the course of their lives.
People of faith understand this as well as anyone.
Graduates, you are getting a lot of advice these days. Here is a little more:
Value your education.
Use the tools you have gained to honor your own hard work and, in so doing, honor the institution and educators who helped you achieve. If you amassed student loans, be diligent in repaying them. They can be exorbitant, but default is not a wise option for someone aspiring to make his mark in the “real world.”
Continue your education.
This may be obvious to high school grads anticipating college or another form of vocational training. Maybe even college grads who have decided to pursue graduate studies. But the idea is to treat education already completed as having provided the tools for lifelong learning. At its best, formal education is not an end in itself but preparation for life. An appropriate response on the day after graduation is to shout, “Now let the learning begin!”
This pursuit, tempered with the wisdom that comes with years lived and real-life experience, makes us who we will become. It takes time. Graduation is an achieved goal. But it is the beginning, not the end. Constant change in the workplace and in the world makes ongoing study important.
Congratulations to our graduates. As you embark on the next journey of life, remember those who have helped you and give thanks to the God who inspires and continues to guide you.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.