Congratulations! You have achieved an important milestone in your life. You are now officially high school graduates. I call these events “absolutes.” You are and always will be a high school graduate. Absolutely. No one can take that achievement away from you.

Some of you are headed to college. Some of you will join the military. Others of you will get involved in a trade that meets your interests and skill set. All are good decisions.

We need doctors and lawyers, bankers and artists, teachers and preachers. We need welders and plumbers and electricians. We need those willing to serve their country and to put their lives on the line to defend us from those who would seek to harm us. In short, we need all of you.

Not only are you special for what you have achieved, you have done it under extraordinary circumstances. Who could have imagined the hurdles you would face academically and the social experiences you would be denied in one of the most memorable periods of your life? But you made it.

Life is not easy or predictable. You have learned at an early age how to deal with challenges and how to overcome them. You have learned also that you can’t always do it alone. That is where your teachers come in. You owe your teachers a debt of gratitude for having gone through what they have in order to help you achieve your goal of graduating.

They did it despite the potential health risks to them and their families. They did it despite a county school board that gives new meaning to the term dysfunctional. They did it despite bureaucrats that changed signals more than an NFL quarterback at the line of scrimmage. They did it despite parents who wanted you masked or unmasked and made a public fuss about it. They did it because they are teachers and that is what teachers do.

I would hazard a guess that everyone reading this can name a teacher that was influential in their life. I know I can and you will, too.

You have grown up with social media. That can be both a blessing and a curse. It is a wonderful way to share experiences and to stay informed but – and file this one away – because something is posted on social media does not mean it is correct. In fact, it may be purposely misleading. Don’t believe everything you read, no matter the source. Use the thinking skills you developed in school to assess the information and to be sure it makes sense. Don’t be a mindless follower.

And never, ever post anything anonymously. That is cowardice. If you have something worth saying, have the integrity to let others know who said it.

Our country is seriously divided. Please don’t make it worse. There is a lot wrong with our country but there is more that is good. I have been on this earth a long time and have travelled the globe. I have yet to find a country better than this one. Yet, the disrespect we show it is disheartening. Somehow, we think that making a public show of that disrespect will unite us. That is totally wrong and achieves just the opposite. Be proud of your country and stand up for it.

I suspect many of you are already turned off by politics. I can understand that. I have been around politics most of my life but there are times I shake my head at the actions of some of those holding public office today. But don’t let that dissuade you from becoming involved.

The freedom to vote is a sacred obligation not allowed in many countries in the world. We are a democracy and will be one only so long as the people remain in charge. That means you and me. Always vote.

Learn to disagree without being disagreeable. There is a disturbing trend today to belittle and even threaten those who have differing opinions. We seem to have little appetite for seeing two sides of an issue. And there are almost always two sides if we take the time to look. Take that time.

Hopefully, you will be the most tolerant generation yet. Don’t let anyone influence your feelings toward others because they are different from you. And let no one put you on a guilt trip for bad decisions made generations ago. Love yourself and each other. We are all children of God. And, yes, in case you are wondering, there is a God.

Have a sense of humor. Somehow, we have become so sensitive that we are afraid to laugh at ourselves or at each other. See the humor in this world. Victor Borge, the legendary musician and humorist said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”

Okay, graduates, enough with the advice. Again, my congratulations to you. Now, go out into this world and make it better than you found it. I am counting on you. We all are.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at dick@dickyarbrough.com; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb

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