Graduation is a milestone.
I graduated from high school when teachers were always right and we knew if we got in trouble at school it was a fate 10 times worse at home. Teachers earned public respect and weren't threatened with litigation for making us behave or looking at us wrong. Going to college was not perceived as a right. We had to work for it or it didn't happen.
I took yard mowing jobs at 12, worked behind tobacco combines in hot fields at 14, fried chicken at the local KFC at 16 and sold shoes to get through college and graduate school.
There were no handouts; HOPE was something we had for the future and dropping out was not an option. Strong parental support was paramount and while most of us found our way after changing college majors multiple times there were the occasional peers who faced early demise from stomach cancer, a tragic accident or personal destruction.
Most of us made it and built a cadre of post-secondary credentials, degrees and certifications built on the belief that in the face of tough economies and personal disasters we had intellectual capital to rely upon. Yet times have changed and workforce demands have raised the bar for entry into the workforce where master's degrees and technical credentials line resumes as prolifically as suffocating humidity on a southern August night.
For the Class of 2012 the failures will be plentiful and successes far between, yet both imposters bear little meaning in relation to faith and family. Demons will charm you but faith and family boast fierce opposition to societal ills.
As you enter college or other chosen avenues take stock of the future, examine economic implications of chosen majors, chart longitudinal projections on careers of high interest and walk the walk of hard work; it will get you there.
The work ethic earned and dollars gained in tobacco fields, grease ovens and shoe stores didn't hurt any of us. Every job is honorable and moves you to the next plateau. Learn lessons from the peers who fall prey to personal destruction, master writing well, think clearly and make mathematics a priority. Your story will write itself.
After the glitter of pomp and circumstance fades it will be your productivity that matters. A 9 to 5 work ethic won't get you where you want to go and most of today's CEOs were high school misfits. Being different is OK.
Hold steadfast to faith, family and convictions and don't capitulate easily if at all. You'll be battered by many and excoriated by others, but the lasting story is that you came to the table, played the game and yielded to few on matters of principle.
Finally, as you enter the often open-minded world of college remember that you live in the greatest country ever known; don't apologize for it.
God bless you every one.
Jeff Meadors represents District 1 on the Newton County Board of Education. He may be reached at Jeffrey.firstname.lastname@example.org.