Graduates are facing an uncertain world

Published 10:15 am Tuesday, April 30, 2024

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Graduation season is upon us. Scholars throughout will soon be donning caps, gowns and stoles as they celebrate completing academic requirements; proud parents, families and friends are honoring loved ones for their achievements; and important, influential people encourage graduates in keynote addresses that are delivered to offer hope and a charge for the future.

Milligan University had its graduation ceremony this past weekend and East Tennessee State University will celebrate its graduates this weekend at ceremonies.

It’s a feel-good, empowering time for these graduates and their families.

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Graduations are more than formal ceremonies, they are a symbol of completion and progress, and offer cheer for all those who take part in the commencement activities.

Merriam-Webster defines the verb “graduate” as: “to pass from one stage of experience, proficiency, or prestige to a usually higher one.”  

Of course, graduates should get high praise. From pre-kindergarten graduates to those getting doctorates, it’s important to acknowledge the hard work and long hours put in.

Now is the time to celebrate all you’ve been through while also making plans to begin the “higher” stage as noted in the definition of graduation. After completing the tasks, gaining the skills and getting the rewards, we’re expected to take those lessons and implement them in the next chapter of our lives. Whether it be advancing to the next grade, getting a new job or promotion, completing a task or goal, or simply finishing that thick book you’ve been working to get through, congratulations. 

Although students are marking the end of an educational journey, they are embarking on an even longer and more important journey. As they graduate, they are celebrating the fruits of their efforts with a piece of paper that says they earned a long-awaited degree.

Both Milligan and ETSU offer different educational pathways, and both are equally important as the Elizabethton-Johnson City area seeks to expand the base of skilled workers in an effort to remain competitive for the jobs that are here and the ones that will be created over the coming decades.

The new graduates enter a global economy that will require them to keep adapting, to keep updating their skills and adding new ones, and almost certainly to change jobs – often.

But the Class of 2024 has timing on its side. The economy is growing, albeit modestly, and business has picked up. There are jobs for people with the right skills, but many graduates also will find that they will create their own jobs as technology continues to shatter traditional images of the American workplace.

The students who leave our local and state institutions of higher learning also have heard the criticisms of the American education system – even at the college and university level. Yes, we will continue to hear about the college students who can’t find Tennessee on a map, but today’s graduates also are armed with technical and computer skills that their grandparents and perhaps even their parents cannot comprehend.

And rest assured that those students who took their education seriously, who used their time in college to expose themselves to many topics and ideas and who developed and nurtured a passion for their chosen field will compete at the highest levels. An education is not about where you went to school or even how long it took you to get there, but what you make of it.

Those who look at a university degree as four years of going to class and taking courses just to fill a checklist will have gotten less from their studies than the student who saw each class as an opportunity to learn something new, to explore unfamiliar subjects, to challenge preconceptions.

Now they must put into practice what they learned, and continue to seek learning opportunities, whether formally, or informally through rich and varied experiences. Graduation is the commencement of a lifetime of learning.