June is a month when young people commence their lives. They do this by marching into a stuffy gymnasium with a cap and gown covering their nimble minds and bodies. This is a somewhat ridiculous costume symbolizing academic excellence, but the cap with a swinging tassel on it resembles what a clown might wear to a circus. And many of those young people have not yet learned what the word “academic” means. But all young people are very eager to commence their lives, whether it be laboring in a circus or becoming a politician, a short cut to success.
I vividly remember when mustering all the dignity I could and marching across a stage in 1952. Back then, our 20 seniors at Morgan High School, (note the word, “High”) had to listen to a commencement address from a very smart person, no doubt, but he went way over my partially vacant head. He explained how sterling silver was made and tied it in with living a “sterling” life. OK, let’s get on with it.
The next day when I began to officially commence my new life, like being re-born in a way, I hung my academic diploma on a wall for the outside world to see. I felt good about the prospects of living a sterling life, but it didn’t turn out the way I expected that next day.
My grandfather, who raised me on our farm, told me to clean the manure out of the barn and spread it on the crops so we can eat what we grow. He didn’t say manure but used a more down-to-earth descriptive term.
There I was tugging until tears appeared in my eyes and thinking deep thoughts that I’d never thought before. What is the meaning of my life? Why was I put here? Will whatever I do the remainder of my life be directed toward making enough money to eat? Or, I could spread manure to grow what I eat. But the major question of one’s life is — what is the easiest way? That’s it, seek and find an easy way.
Back then, I had enough sense to know that town people — doctors, lawyers and insurance executives sat in offices with electric fans blowing on them and some of my teachers had attended college for a year or two. That’s what I will do, go to a Hall of Ivy. If you decide to think, why not think big time? Some smart people go to school most of their lives and write papers that dummies can’t read.
On the other hand, I don’t know if I learned more at school or on the farm. When you spread manure or help a cow have a calf, you learn how all God’s nature fits together. All the schools in the world have not yet determined how human nature fits together. It seems that the more we know, the more confused we become. Is hope our best bet?
What was I thinking when deciding to permit the ivy halls to turn me into a high school principal? It’s a harder job than being president of the United States. But I thought that education was the key to keeping the silver in our lives polished. And what a relief it was to send over 10,000 graduating seniors out into the chaotic world, some of whom never learned how to diagram a sentence. And there were many parents sitting in the bleachers, who upon watching a knucklehead son receive a certified diploma, shout, “There is a God.”
Throughout all my experiences with senior classes, chomping at the bit, I learned to never give up on these young, immature human beings. You have much more potential than you think you do, so why blow it now? Young people do know if you believe in them.
High schools do have a lot in common with the circus industry. Kids preform magic and high-wire acts every day. The key is to harness their creativity. When one young man walked across the stage, he opened his gown, revealing a Superman costume underneath, and said, “Eat your heart out.” Give him credit for his spirit. Is there some way to control the spirit rampant in high schools, or do we hope it takes root? Those spirited young people drove me crazy, but I cherished them all, believing that each one had a promising future.
Do you know where your tassel is? Dig it out and hang it on a sterling-silver candlestick. It symbolizes what you became.
Contact Terry Cummins at TLCTLC@AOL.com