It’s easy to get a little down these days in the face of tensions in the world, the tragic events that make headlines way too often and the hyper-partisanship that prevails in American politics.
If you want a lift out those doldrums, attend a graduation ceremony, as I did Saturday for Moraine Park Technical College (MPTC) in Fond du Lac. More than 800 students in 85 different disciplines received associate degrees or technical diplomas, and they are now skilled and ready to take on the world. The country needs every one of them.
Mike StaraI, MPTC board chairman, and President Bonnie Baerwald gave me the privilege of addressing the 1000 people in the audience. What do you say that they haven’t heard before. I tried to avoid the bromides. Here’s most of my shot at it:
“It’s the best of times to be young graduate, or even somewhat young at heart, to be of sound mind, skilled, ready for the world.
“The times today remind me of when I graduated from college almost 60 years ago. Jobs were everywhere. I and my dewy-eyed classmates were in high demand. We had lots of employment options.
“Likewise, you have picked a fine time to graduate. Your sense of timing (or your parents’ two decades ago) was right on.
“The unemployment rate here is less than 3%, and there are an estimated 90,000 open jobs in Wisconsin. Just a decade ago, in the middle of the Great Recession, companies like mine were laying off, not hiring.
“We had to slash our education and training budgets; we were unable to invest in young people.
“It took a decade to repair the damage done by the big banks, the Wall Street hot shots and the politcos inside the beltway. The American people sucked it up, stayed positive and kept working. Their efforts, not those of political leaders claiming victory, revived and reinvented the U.S. economy.
“The hard-working adults of this country, the everyday Americans, your parents, presented you with a great gift, a strong and growing economy.
“I’ll bet most of you have already found jobs – good jobs – at a time when wages are rising in a healthy way.
“Some of you, though, may be undecided about which way to go – there are almost too many good options out there for smart, skilled, energetic people with good attitudes. That makes it’s hard to decide. A word of advice that I have given to myself and to young people around me:
• Make a decision. Strike a direction. Don’t wallow in indecision. Don’t sit on the sidelines.
• Then give the new job all you’ve got. Look for ways you can help your company or organization beyond your narrow job description. If there’s an unmet need, a vacuum, fill it. Make yourselves indispensable.
• Then, if that career path turns out to be not for you, stop, assess, but don’t tread water. Strike a new direction. Make a forward-facing decision. Don’t get stuck in the quagmire of no decision. Your resume gets moldy.
“I’ve had seven career changes in my long work life, and I’ve enjoyed them all. Most of you will make multiple career switches as you move through your lives.
“Know that transitions can be done. They sometimes need to be done, since this economy is very dynamic, ever-changing. It continually adds and subtracts different kinds of jobs.
“To be adaptable, you’ve heard this before, many times, you will need to keep on learning. Your degree today is a couple of steps toward first base, but there will be other bases to round
– either at the same company
– or in a new career choice.
“Besides, learning is fun.
“It keeps us young in mind and at heart. I thoroughly believe that the day you stop learning is the day that you start hearing harp music from afar.
“For that reason, I never intend to retire. Never. I don’t even like the concept.
“For an interesting life, you need the kinds of challenges that come with being a productive citizen. It doesn’t have to be in a paid job situation. It can be a non-profit activity, charitable or civic – just so you keep your mind and heart engaged.
“Research shows that the human brain literally shrinks when it goes into disuse. The human body atrophies before its time with inactivity. Put them both to rigorous use through all your days.
“Keep moving, my wife and I tell ourselves every day. Keep solving problems and tackling issues. There are so many causes out there that need your help
“We adults – with your graduation certificates, I hereby christen you adults – have a moral obligation to be positive, to be optimistic.
“This is a great country, despite its many mistakes and challenges. It’s the job of your generation to keep it that way. We elders, the old geezers, are counting on you.
“So, congratulations big time on your graduation today – on a major stride in your life’s journey learning and work. There will be other legs, but you’re off to a great start on some of the best times.
“And, oh yeah, Serigraph is hiring. Send me your resume.”