Caps and Gowns, Hopes and Dreams

Commencement. Graduation. Ceremony. Those three words pack such punch into their sole presence on a page. Commencement—getting on with. Graduation—being recognized for achieving a goal you set your mind to. Ceremony—an opportunity to gather in celebration that you’ve reached the top of one hill and you’re looking to thank all those who brought you to this point and say, “thank you.”

Across the Bryan Independent School District, I’m proud of all the Bryan Vikings who graduate today in Reed Arena from 9-11 am, and the Rudder High School graduates who follow them from 12–2 pm. Brazos Christian School holds their graduation today from 3-5 pm on their campus. Bryan Collegiate High School graduated last night at Rudder Auditorium on Texas A&M’s campus. Students at MC Harris High School graduated on Wednesday St. Joseph School’s seniors graduated last week. There’s events for all graduates who have fulfilled requirements for what equals 12 years’ of lessons in basics needed for someone to become a functioning adult.

Graduation means wearing a cap and gown and walking a stage for a diploma. So many of you hold hopes and dreams for your children today. For some, money is a barrier that prevents them from entering college; others are excited to enter a trade school to begin work as soon as possible. Others walk into college with scholarships (and loans). Others prepare to enter the military service, which may have been a longtime dream of theirs.

Some high school students don’t have an opportunity to celebrate this special day because they’ve already entered military service, or they’re working to help pay household bills. I’m proud of all of you.

No matter their circumstances, all children dream, mostly when they’re little, of what they want to do when they grow up. To all of you who nurtured these children, our thanks for our future adults and career professionals.

This weekend, my wife Chelsea and I are celebrating the high school graduation of her younger brother, Wyatt. We’ve been privileged to share in many of the best days of his high school life as he was part of his school’s Regional Championship football team this year and we made all the games we could. It’s amazing how easy it is to go back in time and think about how it was when I was in high school, reliving those days in my mind for a while.

I know that I’d grown up in a family whose careers meant “being there” and “showing up” when you were needed. I liked the idea of that very much. As I get a little older I give some thought to what my parents were thinking about as I was in high school. What ran through their minds when I was a teenager? In my mom’s case, probably a mixture of confidence and fear, wanting me to enjoy life but worried that maybe some harm might come my way. In my dad’s case, he could probably remember himself at that age and knew that things were going to work out for the best, after I learned a few things the hard way.

I made a list of some dreams of our about-to-be graduates to consider how we as adults in their lives can maybe help them reach those goals.

  1. Congratulate each graduate and honor them for this point in their life that they’ve reached. Celebrate the entire day without asking them “what are you going to do next?” The entire point of Graduation Day is to bask in the joy of the event. Sometimes in our celebrations, they last as long as it takes to get group photos for the scrapbooks and then you’re done. Celebrate this entire weekend long. Ask your graduate what the toughest challenge was that they faced in high school. Ask your graduate who their best teacher was and wait for the answer. Chances are good that you’ll start hearing about their dreams for what they’ll do next in those discussions, and they’ll be happy for you to hear their choices.
  2. Don’t judge the future path that your high school graduate takes. Be happy for them, whatever they’ve chosen. College right after high school is certainly not the answer for every student of talent who graduates this weekend. It has nothing to do with intelligence, preparation, or chances for success at any college campus. It often, in this day and time, has to do with economics. We find that many students don’t want to enter life with $80,000+ in debt to be repaid in 10 years’ time, so they want to work and save up to go to school. Celebrate their wise choice, don’t worry about they’ll never attend. They’ll get there.
  3. Encourage your graduate to dream about their future for a while. Not everyone knows when they graduate high school exactly what they want to do next. They may have a vague idea, but wouldn’t you rather your child take a year after high school to either take a trip, do a volunteer year in a country that needs help, or consider the Peace Corps, or other non-school activity. Sometimes you want to “try a career on” without major obligation. It might just help your student not waste money taking courses in a major that perhaps “You” wanted them to consider, for the good of their future. So many times after freshman year is behind them, students want to change majors. Be open to all options as they decide what best suits their future.
  4. Embrace the idea of trade schools and professional academies that are focused on a single area of study. One major need in any community across the country is for qualified, certified, trained professionals in the basic trades that we as consumers have no idea about—plumbing, HVAC, electronics, mechanics, nursing, and other focused school offerings. And, a lesser known fact is that graduates of these training programs make fantastic salaries and let’s face it, we will always need their skills to accomplish our most important tasks that we have no idea how to do.
  5. It might take 10, 20, or even 30 years before some of this class of graduates realize some of their dreams. Life sort of gets in the way of great plans from time to time. Delay does not mean destruction of their dreams. So, don’t worry that your children, your relatives, or your friend will never realize whatever their closest-held hopes and dreams might be. Believe in them, even if it is blind faith, and join them in their dreaming for the future they see for themselves. Imagine what a great world we will have in 20, 30, or more years as they find their way, with only our affirmation and not our nagging.

And if you’re going to your 20th high school reunion next month, or maybe even your 30th, don’t worry about comparing yourself and your career or life with those of your classmates. It’s all apples and oranges to try and compare one career and life to another. Life is a series of choices and each decision we make today affects the options we face for the next decision and the next.

People tend to achieve their dreams when they believe in themselves, but the path is certainly made smoother and happier when others believe in your dreams with you. High school graduation is one of the very best days of our lives until we reach the next .

Congratulations to everyone in the Brazos Valley who is celebrating a new high school graduate this weekend, and may all of their futures be safe, bright, successful, and very blessed. Thanks to every adult in their lives for your love, support, encouragement, and discipline that you show by your own example to them.

It’s  not about any brightly wrapped packages, engraved pens, cards stuffed with money, or logo-covered clothing for their future that will make an impact as the best gift for them this weekend, although all of those are welcomed by all. However, it’s the time you offer them, being in their lives, caring about their hopes and dreams, and keeping up with them, staying in touch in the coming years, that will be the best gift you can ever offer them. Time—it’s the most priceless gift and everyone can afford to give it. So have a great weekend and tell your graduates that you believe in their hopes and dreams, and snap a picture of them in their caps and gowns for your scrapbooks.