Good luck, graduates

May. 26, 2014 @ 05:19 PM

Neal Hairston IV, salutatorian of this year’s graduating class at the Josephine Dobbs Clement Early College High School, looked out at his classmates and their families last Thursday and reflected:

“We may never meet again but we’ll never forget each other. Today is the end of a journey and the start of a new beginning and new adventure.”

Similar words will resonate in gyms and auditoriums throughout the area over the next couple of weeks. High school graduation season is in full swing.  The Early College seniors in N. C. Central University’s McDougald-McLendon Gym were among the first wave.  “Pomp and Circumstance” will reverberate many more times until a commencement crescendo June 11-14 when, among others, Durham’s six traditional high schools and Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools will hold graduations.

Graduation is one of those mileposts that never loses importance. It is, for students and families, the culmination of 13 years or more in school, stretching back to kindergarten or pre-school days.  For teachers, principals and other staffers it is an often bittersweet moment when young charges they have inspired, encouraged, informed (and sometimes endured) embark on the next chapter. 

For most youngsters turning their tassels this season, that chapter will be some sort of continuing education, whether at a university, four-year college, community college, vocational school or the military.  A couple of generations ago, many students could breathe a sigh of relief their book-learning days were behind them and land a job. As Lewis Bowling described it in his column Sunday on veteran Jim Harward, “Many young men in years past had gotten on with the tobacco companies and made a good living from the profession.”

That wasn’t an option for Harward because war beckoned. It’s not an option today because those factory jobs and other blue-collar work that could provide a good living for someone with a high school education are long gone.

The labor needs of today’s economy leave little but low-paid service or retail work for the least educated. That’s why, even as we celebrate those who receive their diplomas this spring, we should not be satisfied with their numbers. In Durham Public Schools, for example, the graduation rate, while improving steadily, still stands just shy of 80 percent. One out of five students who entered high school didn’t join his or her fellows in a graduation procession. 

For many of this season’s graduates, the journey was relatively smooth -- supportive families, intellectually stimulating environments, enriching experiences in and out of the classroom. For others, the challenges were greater, often navigating the shoals of poverty, violent neighborhoods, family stress and even homelessness.  Those who persevered and succeeded through those obstacles merit an extra measure of pride and appreciation for what they accomplished.

Whatever path they followed, the thousands of students donning cap and gown this season have earned their moment on the stage. We hope they enjoy it – and wish them luck and good fortune as they move on to their next adventures.