I’ve had three sons graduate from high school and this week the second graduated from university.
Since education has always been an emphasis in our home, graduations have been a time of great pride and, to be honest, great relief. My wife and I and our kids have all felt a huge weight lifted from our shoulders with the completion of each educational level. You simply cannot deny that the dedication of time and effort to an education is often difficult to justify, especially when it is costing money, yet it’s an achievement and a skill foundation that no one can take away.
High school graduation is a double-whammy. Not only does a student graduate from school, but often, from home, as well. Whether a grad is heading off to university, college, the workplace or to find themselves in a post-grad experience, it is more common than not that he or she will leave the security of their parental home not long after that march across the stage.
In essence, a high school grad is giving up almost everything he or she has lived with since birth. Graduation tears are generally a combination of happiness and fear.
A university graduation is no less a double-whammy. This time, a student is graduating with a degree but also, for the most part, from the role of being a student. The most pressing focus of a university grad is what to do for a job and how to support oneself now that student loans will begin to demand payment and mom and dad are tapped out after 22 years of child support.
I sat over dinner with my recently graduated son and he looked at me with that deer-in-the-headlights face and said, “What’s your advice?” He’s been in school since the age of four and has worked hard. He has a solid foundation of education, but he’s trying to jump ahead a bit and see what the final “house” on that foundation, in which he’ll live his life, is going to look like. I suggested he was still a long way from that vision. My advice was to simply get out and live a little.
What every graduate who is not heading back to school in the fall needs is to get some life experience. Each has mastered the skill of being a student, but has little experience in being a wage-earner or contributor to the GDP of the country. Part-time work for the sake of earning money is a far cry from seeking employment in your field of study with the intent of pursuing a passion for the rest of your life. It can all be pretty daunting to a kid sitting with a square piece of cardboard resting on his head listening to speakers talk about the world of opportunities despite the fact that we all know there is a very limited job market for young people.
Education sets a foundation of knowledge, but experience applies that knowledge to something productive. You can’t possibly know whether that passion you thought existed at 18 is truly a lifetime passion until you get into the field and find out the practical side of it. There’s another graduation to wait for, from the idealism of all the learning to the realities of finding that niche we all refer to as a career.
Graham Hookey is an educator and writer. Email him at email@example.com.