Graduation… from or to?

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Contributing Editor
Walt Pickut

It’s been a tough year (and more) for everybody—especially for students. That’s making it hard to know what high school graduation really means this year. Everybody is trying to make it as close to normal as possible, but in some ways it is sure to be more memorable than in years past.

Graduation usually signals:

  1. Farewell to friendships and classmates—years of studying, growing, and having fun together.
  2. Saying good bye—or good riddance—to favorite or unfavorite school books and teachers.
  3. Starting something entirely new.

This year, the “interrupted year,” has changed numbers 1. and 2. in ways that nobody expected—not the students or their parents, not the educators or the community.

But regardless of how it all ends this year, high school graduation always brings with it an opportunity to remember the ancient saying: “Every ending is a new beginning.”

So, this week the Jamestown Gazette celebrates every graduation with you, whether you are a parent or grandparent, a loved-one or a friend.

But if you are the graduating student yourself, we invite you to ask yourself one question:

Will you graduate from something or to something?

An education can be merely endured, or it can prepare you for what comes next. If you haven’t been planning for that, graduation is a great time to start.

If you have assumed, or just not thought about it, that the world you’re graduating into will be easier, with fewer rules, more freedoms, and less demands, you’re in for a surprise

Consider the words of singer, song-writer Kelli Jae Baeli. Graduating into the world beyond school, if you haven’t used school to help plan your future, “…that’s like leaping off a cliff and trying to knit yourself a parachute on the way down.”

Abraham Lincoln on the other hand, once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” That’s good news even if you haven’t done much planning yet. You just finished four years of sharpening your mind, and probably more. In other words, you’re not just graduating from school. you’re graduating into the world and you’re probably readier than you think.

So our most important message to the graduates of 2021 is to understand that the world you are graduating into is not the one that students graduated into at any time in the last century, but you have the tools you need.

It’s not the facts that you memorized (or forgot) in your solitary, virtual learning bubble last year, but a new and unexpected ability to think your way through different and novel situations. You have been equipped with this rare and important advantage, an education beyond the standard curriculum, unlike few others before you. The world you are graduating into needs you.

The words of Nelson Mandela, revolutionary leader and president of South Africa explains your privilege and your mandate. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Congratulations Class of 2021. Graduate into the world you will change. Make it a better one.

Enjoy the read.

Walt Pickut

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.