Congratulations, Class of 2004!

By Jim Bishop, Bishop’s Mantle in Daily News-Record

How well-prepared are today’s college graduates to survive and thrive in the marketplace and larger society?

On one hand, I get the feeling that most are street-wise, savvy and possess both the skills and motivation they’ll need to make a difference in the world. When I see the incredibly diverse learning opportunities afforded them over four (or more) years both inside and outside the classroom, I yearn for the chance to go back and do it again myself – but not at my age.

On the other, the class of 2004 will face challenges, demands and obstacles that we baby boomers couldn’t even dream or have nightmares about – the spiraling costs of food, clothing and shelter; ever-mounting feelings of vulnerability from sinister forces even as we build more intricate security networks to supposedly shelter us from those who would do us harm; a general malaise that infects and drains people of their resolve and desire to aim for the highest ethical/moral standards in all their dealings.

These mixed emotions surface for me each year this time as another freshly-mind crop of undergraduate, graduate and seminary students conclude their years of tears, toil and sweat and reach for their diplomas (except for those who will only receive the cover that holds the document, with the longed-for sheepskin to follow once all graduation requirements have been met).

And then, diploma in hand, tassel moved from right to left and the final commissioning charge given, what’s next?

For some, those endless hours of study, research, writing are test-taking are history. They’ve actively pursued and secured good jobs, often directly related to their major. But if not, their strong liberal arts training, coupled to cross-cultural work and study, will serve them well, whatever their vocational calling.

A goodly number may not have specific plans neatly in place, but are actively pursuing possibilities. For others, graduate school looms ahead with more long hours spent in lonely study rooms.

One reality, however, will quickly settle in for most: man, I’m out of school, I’ve got a steady job with lots of responsibility, the bills are already coming in, my car needs an overhaul, and I can’t hit that alarm clock and sleep another two hours.

Welcome to the real world, that which was placed on hold for a period but must again be squarely faced. The learning process, shaped and molded by that wild and life-altering academic whirl, is really just beginning.

As countless other students walk their respective platforms at numerous institutions of higher learning across the country in the weeks ahead, my wish for each graduate is that they recognize what a privilege it has been to drink deep at the fountain of knowledge and now to offer that life-giving, refreshing cup of cold water to others, hopefully rising from a deep sense of calling, care and compassion.

Not everyone has such an opportunity, and to whom much is given, much will be required.

For myself, I can’t repeat my college experience of 1963-67, nor am I certain I’d want to, but I can resolve to keep drawing from the precious resources received during my college sojourn that played such a vital role in challenging my assumptions, shifting my priorities and generally rearranging my life.

I can’t cite the source of this musing, but I resonate with it and commend it to each and every person who matriculates in the days ahead: “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘”WOW–What a Ride!'”

Congratulations and blessings, class of 2004!