Advice from Dad to a Grad

by Kenneth Jones

graduated high school a long time ago. When I graduated, there was no Internet, no cell phones, and not even cable television. Cars were just transitioning to unleaded gasoline and climate change not yet to be a public policy discussion.

My son, Henry, will graduate next week, and if I were clever and omniscient, I would try to characterize how the many changes taking place in society, the economy, and the environment will translate to changes in his post-high school life. But, the fact is I can’t—I don’t know where our world is headed. As a result, I have to go back to what hasn’t changed.

When I graduated, I had what I think are the common emotions of excitement and fear. Excited to begin claiming more control of my life decisions, such as what food to eat and what time to go bed, and more importantly, the choices of my social network and a new career. The fear was based on the unknowns of my capacities and the challenge to make it on my own without the 24/7 support of my parents.

While chatting about the future with Henry has not been a regular occurrence, it is clear that he faces the same combination of excitement and fear for the same reasons.

My father and I had a similar chronology. Late to marry, late to have children, therefore a bit older than the average parent of a graduating senior. For us, the graduation of our kids comes at the same time that we are thinking of our retirement, so we anticipate the emerging adulthood of our children at the same time we consider our own professional exit strategy.

And therefore, as a parent, the consideration of our children’s future merges with review of our own progress. How will our children (Henry is the youngest of our three) emerge from their family-directed growth to their independently determined trajectory for career, family, and community? While I continually reflect on my career success as a yardstick of my life accomplishments, there is no question that I look to my kids’ accomplishments as an even more important gauge of success.

There is another important factor that I will consider when I watch Henry march down the aisle to the cadence of Pomp and Circumstance. My wife and I are a part of the recipe that has resulted in the entrée that is Henry. Our schools and community added undeniably rich and sometimes conflicting ingredients to his growth.

As some of you know, I sat on the School Board for Montpelier schools with the intent of ensuring that our schools provide the best possible opportunities to foster the growth of our children. My strongest conclusion from those six years is the importance of interactions between family backgrounds and school experiences. Students who come with challenges from their home life such as poverty, violence, or neglect face a much different educational experience from those who have had greater privilege. The Montpelier schools continually attempt to accommodate the differences in family backgrounds, but the challenge remains largely unmet.

Fortunately, Montpelier has a large number of families who are supporting their children and the schools. I believe that strong family support makes teaching and learning easier, which is an important reason for the successes of our Montpelier students and helped me get started those many years ago.

So, it is time to pass the baton. Good luck Henry, and I hope that when it is your turn, you will be looking forward to your children stepping out into the world and while recognizing their fear, knowing that your family did its best to set them up for success.

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