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Grads have big decisions to make

When our oldest daughter graduated from high school 10 years ago we attended an academic awards night for members of her class.

Sitting in the crowd at the Fergus Falls Eagles Club that night I had to wonder what would become of these bright, young people. What would they do with their minds?

This week in the Pioneer Journal, we are publishing the personal stories of two members of Wadena-Deer Creek's Class of 2000 - Jackie Gastecki and Jeff Endres. Both have done very well.

It has always seemed a bit unfair to expect life-changing decisions out of 17- and 18-year-olds. One day they are carefree kids, playing jokes on each other and getting into mischief and the next they are charting a course for the rest of their life.

The world can be a cold, cruel place and that first day of grade school that some parents fret about is small potatoes compared to leaving high school.

So many things are tested in the years after high school: courage, perseverance, responsibility, problem-solving, common sense, adaptability and perhaps the biggest one of all -- the ability to relate to others.

One of the great shocks for many kids is finding out that they are not going to be under ma and pa's roof anymore. They might be going off to live in a college dorm. That is what our class of 2000 graduate did. She checked into Concordia College in St. Paul and shared her dorm room with two other girls. The girl that left her clothes all over the floor and slammed doors when she was mad found herself rooming with two strangers -- one a snob and the other a very lazy, disorganized girl. Our daughter did not have any time for the snob but the lazy one became one of her best friends. She became her "big sister" and kept her on the ball. The girl who off to college to add to her education did some "educating" of her own -- and it was good for both of them.

No one asks a kid if they want to go to school when they are 5 but they do later. Our youngest daughter was thrilled about her first day of kindergarten. When my wife asked her if she had enjoyed her first day school she happily replied "Yes! And you know what? They told me I can come back tomorrow!"

If kids believe the road was tough in high school they really have an eye-opener when they leave. I remember standing in a packed room in my junior year at St. Cloud State and suddenly realizing that I was in competition for the classes I wanted with the hundreds of other kids around me. Some of us were going to win and others were going to lose.

I remember my college roomie and I studying until 2 a.m. many mornings.

I was one of the lucky ones. I knew what I wanted to do when I left high school and I knew what I would have to do to get there. The woods are full of kids who do not know. They might tell their friends and relatives they are going to take up this or that but down deep they are not so sure.

My kid sister did not know what she wanted to do for many years but she knew she liked helping people. When she was a little girl she bravely made friends with the meanest, old grump in town because she thought he was sad and lonely. Many years later she helped a young man escape from Cambodia during the time of the infamous "Killing Fields" and saw to it that he got established in Minneapolis. She finally became a physician's assistant and has turned an impulse into a paying job.

There are pitfalls out there and many kids have gone down the wrong road but with some discipline and hard work those years right after high school can also be great -- because those are the years when so many of us learn the life skills that will take us over many a bumpy road.