April 28, 2006

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Graduating from promise to fulfillment in life

May is the month of Mary, moms and graduates. They’re all celebrated with great joy and honored for their accomplishment. But, for some graduates, that big day can be a scary event as well.

Now, I’m referring to “legitimate” graduations here, not the cute kindergarten diploma parties or Brownie fly-ups we all love to attend. But I do include graduation from elementary to middle school, or middle to high school, in the scary group.

That’s because, unfortunately, we live in a time when great pressure is put on the young to achieve at an early age. They’re sent to preschool at 3, expected to learn to read in kindergarten and inundated constantly with information, just because technology permits it. Even their “leisure” time is overorganized.

Sometimes this is done for the convenience of parents who work, and sometimes because parents understandably want their children to succeed in an ever-more complicated world. Adult expectations are increasingly placed upon kids, with the result that adult behavior such as stress is appearing earlier and earlier in kids’ lives.

Pressure to gain academic success is not the only “grown-up” expectation laid on children either. It’s often accompanied by the social need to “fit in” with their peers by dressing, talking and behaving in what they perceive as adult ways. They drink alcohol, do drugs or have sex, not because they’re truly anxious to do these things, but because they think it’s expected of them. The media are certainly complicit in making them think so, too.

So, it’s no wonder that children graduating from one educational stage to the next may be apprehensive about the new situation. And, of course, the same is true at levels of higher learning. Going from high school to college is usually quite a change, requiring more personal responsibility and focus on study, not to mention the additional expenditure of time and effort it takes for some students to hold jobs and support themselves financially.

It seems to me we all need to help graduates fulfill the promise they represent. Those of us who’ve been there, done that, have a responsibility to share our experience, point out potential pitfalls we learned the hard way and support realistic dreams. All this in low key, mind you. The last thing they need is well-intentioned preaching.

The main reason why people feel hopeful, rather than scared, at a time of graduation is their perception that education is not only desirable, but also necessary in order to live a fulfilling life. This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be a doctor or a rocket scientist, but it does mean that intellectual curiosity should be a given for anyone. It is the confidence factor that will make opportunities out of every situation in life, rather than tribulations to be endured.

Like Mary and moms, graduates are made in the image of God, their creator. Education is one of the best ways for them to enlarge their humanity as they seek divinity. It should give them joy.

Congratulations to all graduates, so full of the potential to improve themselves and our world. Onward and upward.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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