By Joe Rector

All over the country, folks are assembling at churches, school gyms, and larger facilities to hold graduation ceremonies. Whether the event is for a high school or college, moms, dads, husbands, wives, and children are celebrating the educational accomplishments of students.

Some historical accounts report that the traditional cap and gown were worn during the 12th and 13th century to differentiate the students from the townspeople at the university where they attended. Others say the garb was worn to keep students warm in the unheated classrooms where they studied.

These days, the cap and gown outfit is a sure signal that a person has completed a course of study. Now, whether that individual has exceled in his studies or has sneaked through them isn’t necessarily indicated. Only those with the highest academic successes are labeled with cum, magna, or summa laude. The rest of the graduating class is a hodgepodge of grade point averages.

Some students have been diligent in their pursuits of knowledge. During my high school years, I never let classes interfere with my education. Instead, I poured more of my energies into friends, events, and mischief. That’s not to say that I squeaked by to graduate, but a 2.6 grade point average and a score of 18 on the ACT were nothing about which to brag. Some of my friends spent little time in study but managed to make A’s in their classes. One individual even scored a perfect 36 on the ACT. However, in looking back, the people I most admire are the ones who worked for their good grades.

In college, things are a bit different. Many students arrive on campus with dedication and determination to succeed. I was one of them. It was in those classrooms where I paid the price for not working hard in high school. For my entire college life, I studied long, hard hours; “all-nighters” came before exams. So much of the material made little or no sense to me the first time I read it. Only after reviewing things did I “get it.” That studying hard continued even as a worked on a graduate degree. However, most of the materials in that program was stuff with which I disagreed, but to make it through the program, I played the game and regurgitated the stuff for professors during test and in papers.

A large group of students leave homes for college for different reasons. They are there to make friends, engage in parties, and meander through their lives free of home and rules. Last on their lists are attending classes or studying materials. Consequently, their stays at universities don’t last more than a term or two. Then, they return home to figure out what will become of them for the next several years.

College is not for everyone; I’ve said that for years. However, a basic education is essential in today’s world. The old manufacturing jobs of the past that once paid so well either aren’t coming back to the U.S. or aren’t paying sensational salaries. Having a skill or continuing an education to develop one is essential. Otherwise, individuals are doomed to a life of struggle.

Congratulations to all those who walk across the stage with a diploma in hand. If you have worked to earn it, know that your efforts will be rewarded. If you have done as little as possible and narrowly made it through with an attitude that “D stands for diploma,” realize that such an outlook will lead you to disappointment. Each day is new, and with it all of us have opportunities to learn something new.