Columnist: Graduation is only the beginning

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 13, 2016

Ernest Fannings

Contributing columnist

This one’s particularly for the high school seniors, but anyone who is completing any type of formal education or training will benefit.

It’s the last month of school for the 2015-2016 school year, and most of us are happy that summer is nearby. High school seniors are especially happy, as this marks a long anticipated time — high school graduation. For four years, thousands of students have spent hours each day studying, attending class and doing homework, and for many, it’s almost over.

Although 12 years of formal schooling are complete, it is only the beginning of a lifetime of informal education, and possibly more school, such as college.

It’s important to see high school and all graduation from this perspective, so that we can take advantage of the opportunities to improve our lives afterwards.

Think about the common paths taken after high school. Many students go on to attend college, join the military, or attend a job training program. Some take a gap year to work and build their resumes. But all students who want to have a successful future have one thing in common: they’ll need to continue learning after high school. So graduation is only the beginning.

This is true for most formal programs. The time spent to graduate anything is usually not invested into the reason for which we attend the program in the first place.

Put another way, formal institutions such as schools and programs are means to an end, that is the achievement of more significant goals such as careers and community impact. The end goal of high school graduation is not actually to earn a diploma, but to achieve a basic level of education.

The end goal of completing a work training opportunity is not to earn a certification, but to advance our careers. Diplomas and certifications just serve as proof of completion.

So whether it’s school or a job, graduation just signifies the beginning. Everything before was just initial training.

While students are in school, as with any other system of formal education, lesson plans, assignments and projects are all designed and structured for them. They’re given counselors to help them create a road map to graduation in terms of classes.

For the most part, they know what classes they need to take, what grades they need to make, and how to make them, so everything is clear. If they are in danger of failing or are missing graduation requirements, teachers and counselors usually warn them and let them know what needs to be done to fix the problem.

However for the remainder of their lives, and all achievements past graduating high school, this isn’t so. To complete college, build a great career, become a great parent or leave a huge impact on the world around us, we have to create our own road maps.

We don’t have others who analyze our work and teach us lessons, we have to do that ourselves. We become our own teachers, and to succeed we must also become great learners. Graduation is only the beginning.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you give me six hours to chop down a tree, I’ll spend the first four sharpening my ax.”

Of course, many years have passed since his time and chopping trees isn’t a significant problem we face today. But likewise, we must sharpen our minds to build the skills needed to cut through the obstacles in the wilderness of life.

Even more so, parents must help their students see graduation as the beginning that it is, so that they’ll approach the rest of their lives with an improvement mindset.

None of us want all their hard work as youth to go to waste. Graduation is only the beginning of the greater education needed for a well-lived life.

Ernest Fannings is director of Top Math Tutoring.