Well, it’s official. I am old. For the first time since I moved here nearly 20 years ago, I am witnessing children who I remember being born, graduate from high school. How is it that they have grown up so darn fast? It seems like only yesterday they were going off to first grade or screaming around the churchyard while their mothers tried desperately to keep them clean.
Now they have had senior proms, driver’s licenses, and caps and gowns.
I remember my own high school graduation like it was yesterday. I had gone to summer school so I got to graduate six months early, which in hindsight was a mistake. I missed many of those traditional end-of-high school activities. Nevertheless, my graduation was with about 200 kids instead of the 1,220 with whom I should have matriculated.
It was so very emotional and I wept like the hormonal teenager I was. I realized that I was leaving the well known and venturing into the great abyss of the unknown. It was scary!
Because I had graduated ahead of schedule and was younger than most of my compatriots, I had opted to attend Miami’s public junior college for the first year after high school. In Miami, or at least at my high school, there seemed to be just three “reasonable” options for college: the University of Miami (private and very expensive), Florida State and the University of Florida. Though I applied to all (and was accepted), I just really didn’t want to do that. It felt like following a pack was not for me.
After a year of junior college, I was bored and unchallenged. A family friend gave me a little push and reminded me that UM, FSU and UF weren’t the only schools in Florida. Had I ever heard of the University of South Florida? Hmm, no I hadn’t. I checked it out, applied and was in. A high school chum had taken the same route and we decided to take the plunge to Tampa together.
School started in September and by Veterans Day, I was home sick beyond belief and ready to ditch the whole “go away to college” thing. I came home for the long weekend and informed my parents that I was coming home.
My father, being far wiser than I was, calmly informed me that I was welcome to return to Miami but that I was going to need a job and an apartment. What? I couldn’t just pack my little bag and start over where we had left off? I was devastated and rejected. And really, really angry.
I returned to Tampa and decided to make the best of it for the rest of the year.
You know how this story ends. By the end of that year, I was smitten with college, had made a gang of friends by virtue of a co-ed service fraternity and would end up staying for a total of five-and-a-half years and five majors. Call me a slow learner. I would do it again in a heartbeat if I didn’t have to be poor (Daddy cut me off after four years) and if I didn’t have to study.
All of this is a long way of saying I have figured out a good deal about life after high school. I bet most parents have, but if you need someone else to say it, hand this paper to your kid (who really does believe they now know everything).
First, one size does not fit all. Just because all your friends are bugging out to “sleep away” college, doesn’t mean you have to.
College may not be for you. When I talk to young people, I always like to remind them that there is no dishonor in any job as long as it is legal. If you don’t think tradespeople are important, let your toilet get stopped up or your roof leak. We must have qualified plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, builders, police officers and firefighters and many others. Just try to imagine life without them.
You might not be ready for a four-year college or university. They tend to be larger than you can imagine and a bit overwhelming. But you are in luck! We have a fabulous resource right here at home with Central Carolina Technical College and the USC branch in Sumter. At least for the CCTC option, you can get most of those god-awful basic courses out of the way at a much lower cost than at the four-year schools. Let’s face it, English 101 is English 101 and you aren’t going to like it wherever you take it. Think high school composition on steroids.
Second, there is a plethora of temptations when you go away to school. It is freedom for the first time and in an attempt to make college the happiest place on earth, there are tons of fun things to do beside study, and it is hard, hard, hard to recover from that.
That being said, it will be the time of your life regardless of how or where you do it. Whether you are taking a trade, technical or academic route, you are taking the single most important step in steering the direction of your life. Do it responsibly, but don’t forget to have fun.
And one last note: if you are among those that did not graduate from high school, get to F.E. DuBose immediately and hook yourself up with their awesome Adult Ed program. They are super nice folks, without judgment and will see that you get your GED. That credential is essential for survival in this world because high school dropouts are tagged as quitters and will most likely never advance beyond low-paying jobs that were meant for high schoolers to earn gas money. Don’t throw away your life’s potential when the solution is just down the road.
Education is the best gift we ever give ourselves. Enjoy it. Don’t squander it. Make it count. Have fun. Work hard.