It is again the season for a most significant rite of passage for many area teens and their families: high school graduation.
Over the course of a couple of weeks, thousands of North Georgia teens will walk across stages to retrieve the diplomas that signify an end to one phase of their formal education, and the beginning of a much more complex lesson plan in the class of Adulthood 101.
For many, high school graduation is a bridge to college or technical school. For others, the next phase of life will be full-time employment in the workplace.
But all of those marching to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance" this year will face some harsh realities given the nation's current economic conditions.
Going to college is going to cost more. Being accepted to college is going to be tougher. Budget cutbacks mean academies of higher learning may not be as well equipped to meet educational needs as was once the case. Parents may not have the funds to provide for a college education that was taken for granted just a few years ago.
Jobs, for those not looking to advance their formal education, are going to be harder to find than in recent years. Adults displaced from careers of their own are competing with youngsters new to the workplace for whatever positions are available. For those fortunate enough to find employment, workloads are likely to be heavier and compensation lighter compared to that of a couple of years ago.
Most of those donning cap and gown will have the opportunity to listen to a commencement speaker, frequently a member of the student body who will orate with emotion of days shared with classmates and the challenges of the future.
The traditional graduation speech typically is not the place for the interjection of serious ideas into the minds of students more concerned with enduring the ceremony than being educated by it.
But there are some thoughts we wish could be conveyed to the students of the class of 2009 before they leave the comfortable confines of high school with diploma in hand.
To them, we would say:
These are tough times for our nation's economy, but we are tough people. Over the course of the nation's history we have survived wars, depressions, recessions, famines, drought and disease. Even in our weakened state the American economy is a leader of the world, and we will emerge from the current recession with renewed financial strength.
As young people entering our colleges and work force, you have an opportunity to be part of the next great wave of success for the United States. Work hard, be patient, believe in the future.
Remember, as you plan ahead to employment and careers, that our nation was built upon the premise of a capitalistic economy. In such a business model, hard work is rewarded by success, and privately owned small businesses are the foundation upon which economic strength is built. Be visionaries, entrepreneurial, look for new ways to do things better than they have been done before, then market those ideas.
A basic tenet of our nation's success has been that individuality and private accomplishment provide the motivation for people to succeed. Do not be seduced into believing that personal achievement is bad or that those who accumulate wealth should be punished for doing so. Be proud of your goals, your drive to succeed and your personal accomplishments.
Remember too that our republic was founded on principles of personal liberty and freedom. Do not allow those cherished elements of American life to be sacrificed by those who would forsake freedom for the security of increased government intervention into our lives. Be vigilant in your defense of individuality and personal responsibility.
Do not allow yourself to drown in news of doom and gloom. Remember that while the nation's unemployment rate may be nearing 10 percent, that means that 90 percent of the potential work force is still employed. And while foreclosure rates may be high, for every home in foreclosure there are hundreds that are not.
While there surely are those in need in our great country, the American dream is still alive and well for the vast majority, and our standard of living is one of which the world is jealous.
The beauty of this "grand experiment" called the United States is that while it may periodically undergo government, social or financial upheaval that results in dramatic change, the bedrock ideals that have made it unique in the history of the world remain the same.
To the class of 2009 we say, you have an incredible opportunity to succeed in the greatest country in the world, and by so doing make it better still. Make the most of it.