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Columnist: A special message to the graduating class of 2016

By Glenn Dowell

Contributing columnist

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It was only a few years ago that I was asked to be the commencement speaker for the prestigious DeKalb School of the Arts.

This was one of the things I had on my ever changing bucket list to do while still in good health. Most of the things I had on my bucket list to do I began to achieve and to accomplish at an early age.

The first thing I wanted to do was to finish high school. I don’t remember exactly what our commencement speaker said, but it must’ve been important because everyone in the audience applauded after he finished his presentation. As I completed my commencement address that evening to great applause, I wondered — did the students really pay attention or were they self-absorbed as I was years ago?

Leading up to graduation I had already been accepted into college. My senior year was exciting. I had five close friends during my high school years. We were very popular with the teachers and girls at our school. We were also very smart academically.

That summer, however, after graduation was very special. Even though we knew that we would be going in different directions to pursue our dreams, we promised that our friendships would last forever. How silly we were, even as we were also graduating into adulthood.

Our friendships did last, but they fast became long distance relationships. We moved to different states and in some instances different countries.

The next time all of got together was at a 10th year class reunion. When we got together, most of us had married and had children of our own. To think, a few years earlier we had been irresponsible teenagers.

After securing my degree I left the United States and spent nearly three years in Ghana, West Africa, a country I became fascinated with while in college. This too, was on my bucket list of things to do.

As the years passed, I realized that some of the things that were part of my bucket list I never achieved or accomplished. For the most part, however, God knew what was best and I have few regrets.

What is your bucket list?

Before you answer, allow me to share a few things with you. First of all, if you walked across the stage and received your diploma, consider yourself as being special.

The latest national data shows that more students are getting their high school diplomas than ever before. Just over 82 percent of the students who were high school seniors during the 2013-14 year graduated, up from 81 percent the year before. The rate has inched up annually over the last few years, largely because of strides made by disadvantaged students (Source: The Atlantic, Alia Wong, Jan. 11, 2016).

Although this is super important information there is not a definite correlation between obtaining a diploma and going on to college. In fact, the Atlantic also reported that recently released numbers out of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center suggests that college enrollment rates have actually decreased, and for the fourth straight year — all despite massive increases in federal aid for students who can’t afford tuition.

The number of students enrolling in colleges and universities this year is 1.7 percent lower than it was last year. The percentage of high-school graduates who immediately enrolled in college fell from 69 percent in 2008 to 66 percent in 2013.

You know what? This downward trend of students exploring postsecondary college options has resulted in women now accounting for a majority of today’s college degree holders.

“When enrollments go down, the first thing you lose are the boys,” reported the Atlantic.

A challenge to the senior class of 2016

If you haven’t already, it is not too late to begin your own personal path towards self-discovery. In essence, what will be your contribution to the world.

You should immediately understand the adage: nothing ventured, nothing gained. Pursue the talent that God has given you in the face of considerable trials and tribulations and He will reward your efforts with success.

Never personally, or with others, intentionally violate the rights of others — they too were created by the mighty hand of God. Give charitably, and if necessary, sacrificially — it is solace for the soul.

In the face of problems that leave you dispirited, realize that adversity makes the man or woman and are tests to determine our faith in the Almighty. And most importantly, your bucket list should include maintaining an unwavering commitment to family, and to God.

This will be your anchor through the surfeit of woes you may experience as you, too, commit during your life to making the world a better place to live.

Are you up to the challenge?

Glenn Dowell is an author and LaGrange native who currently lives in Jonesboro. He may be reached at glenn.dowell@gmail.com.