Some 48 years ago, during the early Spring of my senior year at Clinton High School, just weeks before my high school graduation, I was anxiously awaiting a response from my college admissions application to North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro. Let me just say that my acceptance to N.C. A&T was one of the most important milestones in my early life.
Due to the lessons I had learned in the home and in the school, I felt a sense of hope and optimism with a desire to excel and achieve at the highest possible level. This was my opportunity to better myself through my own hard work and striving, something I did not want to squander. It was the 19th century American journalist Horace Greeley who once said, “The darkest hour in any man’s life is when he sits down to plan how to get money without earning it.”
Students in the 2016 senior classes across Sampson County have spent the last several years thinking about their options following high school graduation, making career and educational decisions, with most students transitioning from school to work, other transitioning from school to college and an even smaller number transitioning into the armed forces. And of course, there will be those who are undecided.
Even though our school’s goal is to prepare all students to be college or career ready, unfortunately, there will be far too many young people who will experience great difficulty transitioning into adulthood for a variety of reasons. Some will feel trapped in a cycle of despair, living in a place they can’t get out of, coming from an environment where too few people model success. Additionally, too many home environments do not promote positive reinforcement where young people can gain the confidence to know that they can rise in spite of their circumstances.
These are the students who were “allowed” to slip through the cracks year after year. And at this point, what should be society’s response to this dilemma, in helping everyone live up to his/her potential, while preparing young people for the future.
In finding solutions that work, it has to be a collaborative effort, involving all community stakeholders including local government and the business community. The challenges of the 21st century workplace make it imperative that we teach young people to feel empowered and help them acquire the skills they will need to become employed, meeting their career development needs. This will be an important first step in restoring opportunity and hope to our most vulnerable young people, bringing out the best in them.
Further, we will have to help our youth realize that learning is a life-long process, a continuous means to enhance and improve one’s skills and knowledge. And having a willingness and desire to work is the key to personal success. Learning about the world of work starts early, and honest, hard work should never go out of style.
To make sure that no other young people fall through the cracks, we all have to be involved in preparing our youth for their future roles in the world of work. If given a chance, most people want the opportunity of being able to better themselves through their own hard work.
Larry Sutton is a former teacher at Clinton High School.