What can grads look forward to?

Tom Joyce

I barely remember my high school graduation, a major life step that hundreds of students in Surry County now are taking through commencement ceremonies Friday night and this morning.

My official departure from high school happened so many years ago that our diplomas were not even issued on ancient parchment, but etched into stone tablets. The whole thing seems like a blur — I vaguely recall that the class president, valedictorian, salutatorian and such stood up and said blah-blah this and blah-blah that, and a few school officials did the same.

Then we finally got those coveted pieces of paper that represented 12 years of toil in public education and off we went into the darkness for an all-night celebration party at some venue in Martinsville, Virginia. Somehow, we managed to pile into a Volkswagen Beetle a couple of hours before daybreak for the traditional graduation pilgrimage to Myrtle Beach.

I remember my college graduation a little better, when people again got up and said blah-blah this and blah-blah that. The summa cum laude and the magna cum laude grads were duly recognized along with the rest of us in the oh lawdy, lawdy (run-of-the-mill) category.

Yet regardless of the location or scope of those respective ceremonies, and others I have attended over the years, each graduation event seems to involve some of the same elements.

Of course, there are always the obligatory pats on the back for a job well-done in getting through school given all the trials and tribulations and outbreaks of acne which can clutter a student’s path along the way.

And then someone will always say something to the effect that graduation is not an end but a beginning, and you are expected to take whatever skills you learned at whatever institution is involved and apply them to life in the Real World.

Usually, the departing students also are told that the sky is the limit and you can be anything you want to be with hard work and determination and goal-setting (and that they also can keep their present medical insurance policy if they are happy with it).

Then the graduates disperse in different directions, but collectively will find out soon enough how the world really operates and that much of what they heard at commencement was a load of garbage. They’ll become aware that the principles they read about in textbooks as to how the American system operates were total gibberish.

The real education begins when they learn that life can be guided less by one’s work ethic, fairness, truth and justice and more by things such as dirty deals behind closed doors and people in positions of power otherwise bending those time-honored standards.

Somehow, if they’ve survived the initial shock of that discovery, most graduates will learn to play the game and find their own successful niches in life.

However, I wonder if this will be true for the high school seniors who are leaving those hallowed halls in 2015.

All things considered, students who are going out into the world today likely are finding more unique obstacles in their paths than any recent past generation, including mine.

This seems to be the case whether one is choosing to enter the work force immediately, pursue higher education or explore some alternative career field such as the military.

No one must be reminded of how bleak the job prospects are today for everyone, especially a younger person starting out in the labor force. The unemployment rate for those in the 16-to-24 age range has hovered around the 14 percent mark in the last year or so.

Going to college traditionally has been an option for those wanting to improve their hiring prospects, but this carries a major price today (and I do mean price).

Colleges have become tuition-hiking, money-grabbing enterprises in most cases — what I like to refer to as the University-Industrial Complex.

Students receiving their bachelor’s degrees in one recent year left school with an average of $19,596 in debt, according to The Institute for College Access & Success, and the figure is much higher in many individual cases.

They then must hope the piece of paper they received will allow them to get a good job that not only will ensure survival and the ability to start a family but repay those huge debts. Which again is no guarantee with the tight job market.

So the only thing I can say to the Class of 2015 is good luck!

Tom Joyce is staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.