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Olson: When no one can tell you what to do

Published: Saturday, May 18, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Congratulations to all of DeKalb County’s new high school graduates.

For me, graduating from high school meant freedom. Adults couldn’t just tell me what to do anymore – at least, not without paying for the privilege.

What I came to find out was, that freedom also meant that adults couldn’t tell me what to do any more, even when I wished that they would.

That’s the dirty little secret about adulthood – nobody’s really certain they’re doing it right. If you meet someone who thinks they are, then they almost certainly are not. Either that, or you’ve just met the Pope or something.

Most every parent wonders at some point why other parents they know seem to handle their kids so much better.

It’s common for people with careers to wonder if they couldn’t have done something bigger, better or just different. Or they look back on a successful career and question whether they spent too much time working and missed out on other important things – like their children growing up.

There’s no marriage without its ups and downs, no family that doesn’t have times of stress, no fisherman who’s never been skunked.

Maybe now you’re planning to go to college, or you want to learn a trade, or you’re going to enlist in the armed forces.

If you really believe it’s the right thing for you, then go for it. Do it all the way; see what happens. There’s no other person who can tell you what to do.

My Dad kind of helped me figure this out. I love Dad. He and Mom raised my brother, sister and me together. We were as normal a family as any other, I suppose.

The night before I got married, I asked Dad if he had any advice. He’d been married almost 30 years at the time, so I thought surely he must be able to tell me something.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Punt.”

The man doesn’t write greeting cards for a living.

I was trying to decide whether to sell my house at a loss and move my family to Sycamore to become editor of the Daily Chronicle. What do you think, Dad?

“You’ve got to do what you think you’ve got to do,” he said.

I found out my wife and I were going to have a baby. Any advice, Dad?

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “You just have to roll with the punches.”

Not that raising children is literally like being punched – at least, not all the time – but you get the drift. Things happen, and it’s up to you to figure out how to deal with them.

We all very much want you new grads to figure it out, though. The world needs help. It depends on the ideas and energy of young people as much as anything. We count on young people to bring about positive changes in society with their energy, innovation, and demands for social justice.

Your hometown schools have done all they can for you. Now you have your shot, and for better or worse, no one else can tell you how to take it.

So good luck, grads. Do it your way, and remember to roll with the punches.

Hands-on learning: This week I had the opportunity to hear several high school students talk about their experiences in classes they took through the Kishwaukee Education Consortium.

KEC partners with five area school districts – DeKalb, Sycamore, Genoa-Kingston, Hiawatha, and Rochelle Township – to offer classes to their students. They also work with Kishwaukee College to align curriculum, and more and more students are going on to the college after graduation from high school.

The classes are great for students looking to gain real-world experience in fields that could become their future careers. The students can earn college and high school credit simultaneously at no extra cost to their families, KEC Executive Director Tom Crouch said.

At the partner lunch Thursday, several students had a chance to talk about their experiences in two of those classes.

First, students from instructor Jade Williams’ early childhood class talked about working with seven local preschoolers and later helping out as interns at elementary schools in their home districts.

Most, like Jazzmin Hopkins, a senior at Sycamore High School, said their work in the program was critical for helping them along their path toward careers in education.

“It has given me preparation for being a teacher,” Hopkins said.

Marisol Corral, a senior at DeKalb High School, first addressed the gathering in Spanish before continuing on en Inglés. Corral had worked as a teacher’s assistant at Jefferson Elementary.

“I want to dedicate my life to teaching children that don’t know English,” Corral said.

Samantha Scanlan was the first student from Hiawatha High School to be part of the early childhood program, and was able to help at Hiawatha Elementary in first- and third-grade classes. She said she really enjoyed the time she spent in the program.

“Unlike most students in high school, I really look forward to Mondays,” she said.

The second group was Bruce Griffith’s senior business academy students. The students were divided into three teams – from Rochelle, DeKalb and Sycamore – and spent the year meeting and networking with, as Griffith put it, the “movers and shakers and fingerprint makers” in their communities.

The more than 30 students in the program planned to study many different subjects at college next year, not all of them strictly business-related. But all of them spoke highly of the benefits of learning about business in the community.

“I Iearned a lot and kind of had my career path affirmed for me,” said Christin Bothe, a senior from DeKalb High who eloquently opened her group’s presentation “... This was just a cool experience for us.”

Jonathan Cordes from Sycamore High agreed.

“A lot of the life lessons they set out in the class have really come through and prepared us for the next step,” Cordes said.

Many representatives of local businesses and government were also there to receive certificates of recognition for helping with the program by sharing their expertise.

The programs available at KEC not only help high school students get hands-on experience, but also help them plug in to local opportunities, Crouch said.

“It’s important for our students to understand there are job opportunities here, without going elsewhere,” he said.

Yes, please stick around or come back if you can, folks. We need your help.

• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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