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The commencement coaster

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Andy Kirschner 2

I recently traveled a ways to make it to my youngest sister's graduation from Berea College in Berea, Kentucky.  We listened to the commencement speaker give a rather frank assessment of what lay before these young, ambitious rookies to the American workforce.  He didn't sugar coat it; it's tough out there.  With all the daily buzz about the economic woes the world has faced and is currently facing, how do we best prepare the graduating class of 2012?

Is it right to stand up at a commencement address and give them the real story?  Does it help their hope and optimism to share reports and numbers that more than half of them are not expected to find full employment this year?  What does it say to them when we prophesize that many of their peers will be resigning to move back home with Mom and Dad this year and will likely be hanging onto those jobs waiting tables that helped them get through college? 

On the flip side, what would they say to us if we sent them off to the world with platitudes espousing the opportunity of the American dream and the ideal that they have the ability to do whatever they want?  Is it wise to share with them the stories of countless others who despite tough economic times were able to rise above, differentiate themselves and make millions along the way?  Is showering them with what's possible, just sheltering them from what's real? 

My college graduation was over 10 years ago.  I feel like I have taken several steps beyond that phase of my life.  Still, the opportunity to spend an afternoon at Berea College, in that place and time of commencement brought back a bit of nostalgia for me.  I remembered the thrill of completing years upon years of education.  It was a thrill in a very amusement park ride sense of the word.  After walking across the stage, I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach being the same feeling asdescending that first hill of a rollercoaster. Intellectually, I knew that the ride had been tested thoroughly and that the safety bar across my lap would keep my body firmly in place.  At the same time, through the shaking, screeching, and the wall of wind assaulting my face, I screamed out loud, fearful that I might not make it to the bottom of the hill alive, let alone to the end of the ride.  The juxtaposition between what I knew and what I felt at that time of commencement, helped fuel the thrill of the rollercoaster ride. 

There is an old cliché that life is a rollercoaster.  The post-college life might be bigger, faster and more intense than the ride in college.  At the same time, the rules aren't so different.  Stay in your seat, keep your hands and feet inside at all times and safely sit back to enjoy the ride.

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