Not the best of times

Published 5:48 pm Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The invitations start arriving about the first of May. They are no longer stiffly formal with a personal engraved card in the fold.

Creativity and computers now give hundreds of choices to the high school graduates who wish to send an invitation to family and friends for their graduation ceremony.

Next year I will celebrate the 40th anniversary of my high school graduation. I honestly can’t remember if we had a graduation speaker. With more than 600 diplomas to give out in my class, there wasn’t a lot of time for speeches.

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This year Mary Lou and I will receive invitations and send gifts to seniors in probably a half dozen high schools. We know most of them and share their excitement at this special time in their lives. What do you share with a youth that believes this is the best of times in their short life?

After 39 years, I would say graduation was not the best of times for my class, and I don’t think it is the best of times for today’s class. I don’t say that because the world is seemingly in chaos or to be negative about their future. In my own experience, life just kept getting better. It isn’t the best of times simply because even better times are yet to come.

I grew up with early memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis and what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. I was taught how to get home by myself, how to draw water in the tub if I was the first one home, and to stay in the windowless hall near the closet with all the canned goods.

I graduated after hearing for years the daily body count each evening given by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News.

In between were riots around the country as segregation slowly gave way to integration, not just in schools but in our society as a whole.

Despite the chaotic time of my own youth, I graduated from high school full of excitement, hope and dreams. I believed it was the best of times.

The friends I had in high school quickly gave way to other friends made in college, then business and church.

The things I learned in high school were only the foundation for additional learning that continues to this day. The carefree youth of high school slowly gave way to an adult, responsible not only for himself, but also for his wife and children.

My dreams in high school partially came true and partially changed. I didn’t become an architect and am no longer in agribusiness. I thrived on the changes I made in my life whether they were of my choosing or not. The greatest joys of my life now were not even on my radar screen then.

A couple of years ago I finally joined the internet phenomenon known as Facebook. I began to rediscover high school friends that I had not heard from in three decades. Some were completely different and others seemed just the same.

There was a pleasant discovery as these old friends were found in cyberspace. It seemed that despite personal challenges, heartaches and disappointments most seemed happy. For many, there seems to be much more of a visible faith now than in the time of our youth.

We share the journey we have had with children and now grandchildren. We mourn those we have already lost, which should be a reminder to today’s class that life is fleeting, sometimes brutally so.

The youth of today face terrorism around the world and economic problems not seen since the Great Depression. The world is changing at the fastest pace in history. Our country is challenged by emerging nations pushing for their time in the sun. The world’s population is exploding and global warming has finally arrived.

Young people’s lives are increasingly governed by a computerized world that didn’t even exist when I graduated. They text and tweet without a clue as to how incredible that is to those who shared a rotary phone in the hall with all the other members of the family.

Seniors of 2011 have educational opportunities unknown to their parents and grandparents. They enjoy financial aide and scholarships that make college possible for those that truly desire that education. Never before has higher education been so accessible to so many.

Despite all the challenges graduates face today, there is still a hope and belief they will leave the world better a better place. Whether continuing their education, joining the military or entering the job force, each graduate has a real chance to make a difference.

My wish is they discover the unexpected secret I discovered after graduation; that this isn’t the best of times. The best is yet to come.