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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