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Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; Executive Editor Mitch Clarke; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson.
High school seniors across the region soon will be walking across a stage, grabbing a piece of paper and throwing a cap in the air.
It's a celebration of years of hard work and dedication.
They've spent countless nights crafting the words of an essay or cramming information into their brains before a big test, but now they've got a choice ahead of them. What will they do with what they have learned?
Whether they start classes at a big university, learn a trade at a technical school or go directly into the workforce, it's time for today's students to learn that the world is much bigger than themselves. And that world needs them at their best.
The country's economy still is sputtering along toward a slow recovery. There are some success stories of businesses building a place for themselves, but there also are many stories of families whose dreams have crumbled as jobs were lost and mortgage payments fell behind.
Gas prices teetering near $4 a gallon adds to the pressure as getting to work, moving products from here to there and fueling services such as law enforcement, public transit and mail all gets more difficult.
Politicians at all levels have been tasked with fixing the problem. Solutions, though, are hard to come by. Divisive bickering often stalls plans and leaves voters disgusted.
And as America grapples with these problems, others across the globe pull ahead.
Today's graduates enter an uncertain world.
But young people often are dreamers, optimistic if not idealistic. We need their vision but we also need them prepared. These students aren't to blame for the world they have inherited, but they will be responsible for the one they leave behind.
To become leaders they must build upon lessons learned from teachers, parents and mentors - lessons in both intellect and character.
Education is one tool that builds leaders. Learning about other cultures, governments and religions provides a perspective that many today seem to lack. Understanding another point of view allows honest discussion and problem solving. It's something required of a good political leader if the country wants to move forward.
Knowledge of math and science, from how the body works to how to develop computers the size of a thumbnail, allows advances that can change the way the world functions. The development and execution of big ideas like automobiles, organ transplants and computers put the United States on the cutting edge. We must continue to push ourselves to that edge.
One way to do that is with gains in the medical field. A cure for cancer would save the lives of millions in the United States alone and the crushing losses felt by countless family members and friends. Other families watch as their children suffer from rare genetic disorders with no cure or diseases such as diabetes that require vigilant care. The knowledge and ambition of the next generation could save us some of this heartache.
Technological advances can change and enrich our lives. Sharing news across the globe via videophone brings the world closer together. Hybrid cars decrease our dependence on oil. And Global Positioning Systems guide the directionally challenged to their destination along with having applications in many other fields such as Global Information Systems used by governments.
That kind of ingenuity can lead us to create even better ways to do these things or lead us to entirely new inventions. And those inventions can put the United States ahead in the marketplace, save the environment or fix issues with today's technology.
These types of knowledge are crucial if America is to continue as a world leader and if we are to solve our era's problems.
Leaders must be more than smart, though. Compassion is required to jump-start changes in third world countries and better the lives of those at home, too.
Colleges and community organizations provide opportunities for charitable work in many different venues. Young people should use their talents and passion to join one or more of those efforts, whether it's giving a hand up to the homeless, mentoring at-risk children or raising money for some other charitable cause.
Pursuing this kind of work will not only benefit those in need but will also shape those volunteers into well-rounded community leaders as they learn to look beyond their own needs.
Graduates also will need characteristics like confidence, integrity and understanding. Decisions get more complicated as they enter a new arena. Answers aren't always easy, and they must have the character to make the best choices.
What they've learned in grade school has instilled some of these qualities, but as they come across new experiences they will learn more about themselves and have the opportunity to grow in character.
Each of the 2011 graduates are unique; they have specific passions and strengths. They must find their niche in the world and excel.
We congratulate their successes so far, but we must ask that they continue to pursue greatness. We're depending on them to push our nation and our world forward.