Best wishes to the seniors of 2012

Published 8:35 am Tuesday, May 15, 2012

For a number of years now I have written a column to the graduating seniors of the high schools in the area. This particular year is special to me because this senior class includes my oldest niece, Bailey Ponder.

I, too, will celebrate my own high school graduation this year, by attending the 40th reunion of my high school class. That is only important because of the quickness of those 40 years. It all seems like yesterday.

Bailey’s world, and that of her classmates, is much more different than my graduation four decades ago. The predominant gift then was a wallet or if it was from someone special, then maybe an engraved cross pen and pencil set.

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The world according to Apple had not even begun yet. The only musical gifts you were likely to get were an album or that relatively new gadget, the eight-track tape. It was so revolutionary to be able to play the music of your choice in your automobile with an eight-track tape player.

My own gift from my parents was a tuxedo and a white dinner jacket. I got an amazing amount of use out of those dressy clothes for the next few years.

As I have occasionally been asked to help Bailey with her studies, it strikes me at either how much I have forgotten or how much more advanced kids are these days. As something of a math whiz in my day, I look at an algebra book now in the same way I would look at a book in Japanese. What are those strange symbols and why do I have to know this?

Another change from 40 years ago is the makeup of the vehicles in the senior parking lot. In my day I was very proud of the massive, used Plymouth Fury that I drove to school every day. Drive by a school today and you are likely to see more pickup trucks than anything else. More students than not have a vehicle to drive to school, a reversal from the old days.

In 1972, most graduates were truly leaving the nest to discover a big world they did not necessarily know that much about. Today’s students may still be sheltered, but they have been exposed to so much more thanks to the incredible power of the internet and the World Wide Web.

But as different as things appear to be on the outside after 40 years, I expect Bailey has some of the same hopes and fears on the inside that I did. Like me, she is the oldest child, the first to leave home. Despite being ready to head off to college, there is probably a little bit of her that would just as soon stay put in the safety of all that is familiar.

But to Bailey and all the other members of this year’s graduation classes, I would say embrace this wonderful world and all the many challenges and opportunities it will bring to you.

Don’t be afraid to try new things. There is so much out there to help you expand your horizons. Try new foods, take new academic courses, wear new styles of clothes, listen to new music, and make new friends. You will never again have the chance to so dramatically improve your life and the way that you feel about yourself.

Get involved. There are so many activities and causes that can use your help. Get involved in a sport. Volunteer for a charity. Help a child in need. Be a part of something bigger than yourself.  There is a place for you out there to help other people, and at the same time you will also benefit.

Smell the roses. You don’t have to conquer the world in the first year. If you are in college, take the time to experience all that makes this such a special time in your life. If you are working, set some goals and plan out a bit of your future, leaving time to enjoy some of your newfound freedom.

Work hard. This is not the opposite of smelling the roses. Find time in your life to do both. If you are entering the work force, start off with a commitment to good habits. Be on time. Dress for success. Give a good day’s work for a day’s pay.

If you are a student, commit to making it easier on yourself from the beginning. Be on time. Take good notes. Take an occasional course just to enjoy the learning process. Don’t wait until the last minute to study. Being ahead is a lot more fun and easier than being behind.

Take your Bible. To be honest, most college kids probably don’t spend a lot of time reading the Bible. But it is a connection to your faith and a reminder that there is help when life gets a little tough.

Remember the road home. No matter where you are headed after graduation, remember where you came from. Remember the teachers who have spent years giving you the tools to succeed. Remember your friends, even as you make new ones. Most of all, remember your family.

Your family desperately wants to see you succeed. Give them a little credit for planting the seeds, even as you work to make the flowers bloom. Hopefully, that door you walk out of on the way to the rest of your life will always be open. After all, it is home.

Good luck to all of you as you begin this exciting journey. I hope that 40 years from now you will have had as much fun, love and excitement as I did.

Dan Ponder can be reached at