Graduating? Now the fun begins


Cap-and-GownI’ve attended more than my share of graduations, high school, three college, my daughter’s and granddaughters’ two high school, one college, my wife’s Ph.D and a bunch of grade school ceremonies. You lose count.

But it’s that time of year when young people and those not so young move on. The teachers and professors dress up in robes. So do many of the graduates. Some graduates will soon move on to more schooling. Some to a new job. Some to travel. Some to take time to figure out what’s next.

You can follow the rule book. Or you can throw away the book. For the rest of us, our job is to show up this time of year for the commencement. And offer advice. Free of charge.

When I got my high school diploma, my plan was to be a minister. For the summer, I worked in a shop that made dies embedded with commercial diamonds used to make wire. Dad was the tool and die man at that shop.

In the fall, Dad and Mom and my grandparents crowded into our Buick Century and headed for the small Christian college in central Michigan I had enrolled in. Chapter 1 post high school.

Still planning on a career in the ministry, I moved first to Redkey, Indiana, where I served as a student minister and lived in the parsonage. For that summer.

Then, following my best friends Bud and Carl from undergraduate school, I drove to Cincinnati for graduate work at a much older Christian college in Price Hill. A few years later, by the time I graduated with a Master of Divinity, I not only was finished with student ministries at small churches, I was finished with a career in the ministry.

I had raised too many questions about the conservative beliefs of the professors. How lucky I was they let me graduate. And I wasn’t going to be a minister, much less a professor for that religious brotherhood.

So what was going to be next? If there’s a lesson here, it’s that at every graduation from a school or college, you’re presented with options. Mine was to register at Xavier University for another Master’s, which would give me the courses I’d need to be a high school English teacher.

That took about a year or so. I got the job of department chair at the Dayton, Kentucky, high school. That’s where my first wife had been the valedictorian years before.

I taught there a couple of years, then for a year in Milford, Ohio. Then my dad in Fort Wayne developed cancer. By this time, we had two children, Robyn and John. So to be with my folks, we moved to Fort Wayne. I took a teaching job at my old high school.

Transferred twice in this large school district, I decided to see what other jobs I might qualify for. I always enjoyed writing so I applied at the newspaper. The editor was looking to hire another editorial writer, and gave me a dozen topics to write a short editorial on each one.

The pay wasn’t great. But it was a job that I really liked. During my newspaper career, I continued teaching writing and peace studies, this at the regional campus of Indiana and Purdue universities. I wrote editorials for The Journal Gazette for more than a quarter century before I retired.

When I graduated from high school, I could not have predicted the various twists and turns my life and career would take. That likely will be true of most everyone who is graduating this month and next. It helps to be open to change, open to new challenges.

Listen to everybody’s advice. But always follow your own heart.

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The tar baby war


We never got around to telling Obama what we thought.

But that’s the way it often goes in our Unitarian church forum.

We’ve got lots of opinions.  But no easy answers.   Indeed, when I asked whether the country had some other option than invading Afghanistan,  Jim, whose son had served two tours in Afghanistan,  said we should start earlier.  He was thinking of how our country had supported repressive regimes in the Mideast.

Well, yes, I allowed as how that history helps explain the hostility some Muslims feel toward our country.   But back to the issue, should we have invaded Afghanistan in the first place.

My thought was to encourage my class to engage in some moral reasoning.  After all, I had bill the series “Living the moral life.”

Once I brought up morality, Steve pounced and declared that morality had nothing to do with President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Nothing?    Yes, Steve insisted, it’s all politics.

Several others agreed with Steve.   Don, who tries to follow Norse ethics, reminded us that our country had been attacked so we had every right to retaliate.  An eye for an eye.

So for nearly two hours,  my lively little class debated the pros and cons of injecting morality into a discussion on military strategy.

Meantime, I got the distinct impression several folk hadn’t listened to the president’s speech Tuesday.   In fact, one newscast on PBS went from city to city to get reaction and found only one or two people who had heard the speech.

Are we that disconnected from the two wars the country is still waging?

Some critics have complained that President Obama isn’t asking any sacrifices of Americans.   To be sure, he’s proposed no new taxes, while promising that the increase in troops won’t raise the deficit.

Other critics wonder aloud whether we need to reinstate the draft.  The idea is to spread the burden, spread the pain of these wars.    Hmm.  Bring that up in Congress and see how far it gets you.

But if my class at church ducked the immediate question of this troop surge for Afghanistan, I’ve noted that the columnists and editorial writers don’t seem to have much of an answer, either.

In The Washington Post, one noted, correctly, that the Islamic terrorists don’t need Afghanistan or Pakistan as a base.  They can set up shop in Somalia or someplace else.  Even the United States.    But right now, Bin Laden and his followers remain in that mountainous border between those two countries.

Another writer listed half dozen false assumptions in the president’s decision.

I can’t argue with either criticism.   But frankly, I’ve yet to read or hear any plausible alternative to beefing of allied forces and stick it out.

If President Obama announced a withdrawal now rather than a surge, he would be turning Afghanistan back over to the Taliban.   Not only would the Republicans assail such a decision.   It would betray the Afghans who have been our allies.  They didn’t ask us to invade their country.  We could have construed 9/11 as a major crime and not a war.   That’s how the country dealt with the Oklahoma City bombing.

Imagine that U.S. and allied troops had met more resistance than expected on D-Day, retreated to their boats off the Normandy coast and sailed back to England.  We would have left the French to mercies of the Nazis.

So back to my moral question.  And in my mind, it is a moral question.  What’s the right thing to do here?   I don’t think it’s to abandon the Afghan people to the mercies of the Taliban.

Will the surge allow the president to begin withdrawing U.S. troops by July, 2011?

Well, of course, nobody can say.   If you read the accounts in the New York Times and Washington Post of the debates within the administration, you can see that the president and his top civilian and military officials examined every possible option. In the end, it was unanimous.  Give the surge a fighting chance.

We’re there.  And we’re not leaving any time soon.

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