Monday, July 11, 2011

The C Word

I had the pleasure of attending my local high school graduation last week.  This was a class that was recognized for their social action, for their sense of purpose, and for their involvement.  A nice change in priorities from the “me” generation that we suffered through not that long ago.  Early in the ceremony, there was a speech by the class valedictorian who as you can imagine was very bright and articulate, and had a sense of humor besides.  Certainly an impressive young man with a great combination of positive attributes.

The speech by the valedictorian noted that their journey as students had progressed from the relatively simple learning early in elementary school (spell “cat”) to the more complex learning and socializing as you approached and entered middle school, to the much more complex environment in high school.  According to the valedictorian, it was upon entering high school that the students were introduced to the “dreaded C word” where the “C” stood for college. At the point this comment was made there was a laugh from many of the graduates and an unhappy look from a few.  Why the laughs, why the frowns, and why was there a sense of “dread” when it came to thinking about college?

The sense of dread didn’t really come from thinking about college. Rather it came from the realization that almost everything you did in high school would impact the chances of your getting into college, most especially perhaps the schools you most wanted to go to.  Your grades, your standardized test scores, as well as your other school related activities all made a difference.  Add to that, your economic situation, especially the ability of your family to help cover the costs of higher education which can also make a significant difference.  As do any number of life events, from the most positive to the most tragic.

For some of the students graduating, the journey from high school to college was as smooth as can be and they were positioned perfectly for this next step in life’s progression.  But for others in the audience the journey was more complex and the end result may not have been everything they desired.  Sometimes the journey leaves the current graduate in an uncomfortable place and the disappointment permeates the person and perhaps also the family. At an early age, optimism is clouded by failure and a person may end up being judged solely by his or her SATs or high school average.

Students don’t always accomplish everything they want to, especially by age 18.  But what makes our system of higher education work so well is that there are multiple opportunities provided to change schools, majors, career goals.  In many societies and in many situations in life, there isn’t the opportunity to move forward from a difficult situation.  Our system isn’t perfect but the opportunities are there.  So, after high school, the old saying really does apply, “if you don’t succeed at first, try, try again.”  And our role as educators at all levels of education is to help instill in our students the determination and ability to move forward and ultimately succeed.

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