MENDOCINO COUNTY OFFICE OF EDUCATION: A PERSPECTIVE ON EDUCATION
A Letter to the Class of 2021 – Choose Your Own Path
In America, high school graduation represents one of the few rights of passage into adulthood.
The trappings of graduation—the cap and gown, the playing of Pomp and Circumstance, the moving of the tassel from right to left—link you to graduates in big cities and small towns from coast to coast. And the school colors of the cap and gown link you to graduates from your school’s past and its future. As you strike out into the world, leaving compulsory education behind you, it is important to celebrate and to choose a path of your own.
In recent memory, no class has had a stranger senior year than you. When the pandemic hit in spring of 2020, many thought you’d all be back on campus by fall, then by winter. As the virus rampaged through our nation and our world, you had to adjust to the reality that school would not return to normal. The great thing about your class is that many of you came to grips with this relatively quickly and made the best of it.
If COVID-19 taught us anything it is that the traditional path is only one of many routes available. As you contemplate your future, I encourage you to remember that. It is easy to get swept up in the expectations of others, to follow a traditional path that seems right mostly because you never really considered any others. Cue the famous poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken.
When I was a young teacher, I had to choose between teaching art history near my home on the East Coast or teaching ceramics on the other side of the country in Humboldt County, California. Art history comes with a nice, intellectual shine. It is a thinking person’s subject, worthy of respect and admiration, I told myself. Yet my heart yearned to teach ceramics, to get my hands dirty and create. And I was drawn by the faculty in this remote region. These people did not wait for others to enable their dreams, but rather held art shows, competitions, and other fund raisers to construct a state-of-the-art ceramics studio at their high school. These teachers were passionate about innovation and entrepreneurship and art, and they were hellbent on instilling those qualities in their students.
So, I gave up everything that was familiar and moved across the country to be mentored by these teachers. I met my husband there and the rest, as they say, is history. I share this not to bore you to distraction but to illustrate that a little risk can create incredible potential for your future.
As you begin on your post-secondary path, imagine what it would feel like if each experience wasn’t judged as a success or failure, but instead as an opportunity to gain knowledge and wisdom, and to move you along on your journey. What if whatever comes your way was meant to be, including not getting what you wanted or expected right away? Sometimes, when life closes a door, it’s because that wasn’t your door. Or, maybe it’s a test to see how dedicated you are to getting through that door one way or another. Maybe college is for you; maybe it isn’t. Maybe career or technical training is a better fit. Maybe it’s the military or working for your family’s business or getting a job so you can afford to move out and pay your own way. All of these bring new experiences, which can help you discover what’s best for you.
When people ask about your plans for the future, do not feel like you’re supposed to know where you’ll be in five or ten years. Truth is, even if you think you know, life’s surprises can take you in a whole different direction. Enjoy today. Seek new experiences. Spend time with people you enjoy. Don’t worry too much about the future. It will unfold as it is meant to.