High School Graduation: the Bittersweet What Ifs

By Kathie Starkweather

It’s that time of year when people who live in small towns across the country celebrate and mourn at the same time. We celebrate our high school seniors reaching a milestone of adulthood as they graduate and move on to that next phase of their lives. We mourn the fact that we know with relative certainty that many are gone for good, with little chance of returning.

What if, instead of sending them off as we do now, we did things differently?

We could:

  • Change the conversation with our sons and daughters, and let them know early on, “we want you to get an education, see the world, and come back.”
  • Assure them that when they return we’ll have opportunities waiting in small business, small farms and ranches, and make sure we do.
  • Welcome them back and see them as a success instead of asking “why in the world did you come back here?”
  • Recognize them as adults and a valued part of the community instead of that little kid we remember them as.
  • Pay attention – real, serious attention – to our youth who do not leave to pursue higher education and support their development and growth.

If we look at all of these “what ifs” and begin to dream a bit, we could start to see graduation day as a total celebration, knowing we’re doing all we can to ensure that some of those young folks will be back, raising families and making our communities stronger.