Charles E. Richardson

My wish for the high school Class of 2016: How to prepare for life

It starts every year abut this time. Howard High will begin the public school graduation train rolling Thursday and it won’t stop until Saturday with Westside. In between are Southwest, Central, Rutland and Northeast. First Presbyterian Day School and a host of others — Tattnall Square, Stratford, Central Fellowship, Windsor and Mount de Sales are in there, too.

I know I’m a little older, but I can still remember my own high school trip across the stage 47 years ago next month. That’s back in the Paleolithic Era when school didn’t start until sometime in September and didn’t end until June.

What is my wish for the high school Class of 2016? First, I want them to have as much fun as possible. I want them to have long and happy lives. I want them to be successful, have families if they want and love unconditionally the persons of their dreams.

In order to do all of those things, they must come to the realization that a high school education is not going to cut it. They need more. And I don’t care where they get the more from. Stop right there. I just told a lie. I do care. All schools are not created equal. Some put out fancy brochures and make a lot of promises but deliver little. Some students decide to throw away good money and end up owing thousands of dollars when they could have attended Central Georgia Technical College or Middle Georgia State University for free. My point, dear newly minted grads, you’re going to need more than that piece of paper you received this month to make all of your dreams come true.

Here’s why. If your generation sees the type of advancement, and I hope that it does, that my generation has experienced — oh, boy. I grew up with rabbit ears and a black-and-white television that on a good day might get a fuzzy picture of Marshal Dillon. If you don’t know who that was, ask one of your grandparents.

We thought we were big time when we had a Princess phone. Air conditioning was still too much to be asked for in the home or auto. We had a swamp box cooler at our house when we weren’t living in the projects. It was just a big fan attached to a water hose. I don’t think it cooled anything down. It just moved hot air around.

Members of the Class of 2016 will see amazing things over their lifetimes and experience enormous challenges. If you don’t believe me, the political scene should give a clue. Many in the Class of 2016 will be the engineers creating the new-fangled gadgets that the generations behind them will find so compelling.

But I want them to take a moment to look up from those lighted little screens that summon their attention every few milliseconds. It’s more important than ever for their generation to unplug and get off the grid every now and then. There is a world out there you can only experience through your eyes and ears. And to do that, you have to give the experience your full attention.

You will learn more from listening than from talking, and that listening is not always to other people. It’s listening to the sounds and pace of a city, the way the wind moves through the trees, the way waves crash on the shore, the way blood courses through your body and the way your heart quickens when you’re near someone you love. You won’t find that in a text.

My last wish for the Class of 2016 — and this is part of the happiness thing — don’t worry. Life has a way of working things out. For all of our planning, life takes over. You will have bumps and detours and unexplained occurrences. Most won’t knock you off track completely. You’ll bounce back and learn from them. Just watch out for the big hairy ones that can change the course of your life forever. Those are generally related to doing stupid stuff. If the little voice inside your head asks “Are you sure you want to do this?” you should listen. If it shouts, “Danger! Danger! Back away from the cliff,” believe the voice. It’s placed there by God to help protect us. Have a great life.