To those who hold the future in their hands

Gerry Phelan
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School’s out! The long months of toiling over the books are done. The dreaded exams are finished, and for high school graduates, this is a summer you should remember.

It’s been more than 30 years since I delivered the valedictory speech at my graduation. I recall writing the words with mixed emotions.

I was happy as heck to be finishing high school, eager to begin a life at Memorial University, but sad to bid farewell to so many friends who were going on to other post-secondary schools or mainland universities.

Ends are often new beginnings. Such it is with high school and university and, oftentimes, a career. Many years later you realize that there really was a purpose to all of it, that things happen for a reason, and that you can only control what you can control.

Today, dear graduating students, you get to determine your destiny in perhaps the most exciting period of our province’s history.

Use your time wisely. The next two months, the hopefully hot days of summer after a dozen years of schooling, are pivotal ones. Decisions you make now will not only affect you, but likely the next generation of your family.

Some high school grads have already landed jobs for the summer. Others will brag about taking the summer off. Some will say they are taking a year off, to “figure out what they want to do.” There’s good and bad and multiple sides to all of those scenarios.

I remember working a clerical job in high school that I thought I would do for the rest of my life. The money was OK, the hours not so bad, and I wouldn’t need to look at textbooks anymore. The temptations that dance teasingly in front of you at 16 or 17 are tough to resist.

A job allows you to buy a car. It gives you money to play with. Why would anyone want to go back to a classroom, run up tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and face all the stresses we said goodbye to when we let the door of our high school close behind us?

The answer is the future.

It’s the same answer for those who might want to have a year off before taking the plunge to one of the postsecondary schools. There is something tantalizing about seeing the world.

I believe there is plenty of education in seeing faraway places, an experience that just doesn’t come from books or the Internet. Still, idle time, while pleasant, can be a thief. You can become so used to it, that the possibilities that existed on the day you graduated can drift away, and you lose the drive, energy and determination it takes to continue your education.

I am still in touch with some of my school friends. A few years back, I helped organize a high school reunion. Only a handful showed up, but the beers and banter were fine.

They are judges and lawyers, correctional officers and teachers, engineers and plumbers and, yes, journalists. I’m not sure why I ended up in this profession. It wasn’t something I even considered in my high school days, but here I am.  

We all walked paths of our own, equipped with the tools we were given by those teachers who worked us way too hard and gave us too much homework.  

Yes, high school grads, this is the summer you are in between.

Smell the roses, savour every moment and think about the big picture.

You are inheriting this world from the generation before you. Make a difference. You matter.

Remember where you came from, but also that looking in a rearview mirror should be an occasional glance, not a permanent thing.

Trust your gut, use your brain and carve your own route to your  destination. Congratulations on what you’ve already accomplished.

Poet and author Carl Sandburg said it best, “Time is the coin of life. Only you can determine how it will be spent.”

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and

former broadcaster. He can be reached


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Recent comments

  • Herb Morrison
    June 21, 2013 - 09:17

    Having lived for almost sixty-five years on this planet, my life experience has taught me that, while I should never lose either my sense of idealism, or my desire to persue idealistic goals of any description, my continuing desire to persue idealistic goals must be tempered by the reality that it is the persuing of idealistic goals that gives my life meaning purpose, and a sense of direction. Actually achieving any of the ideals, which I am persuing could very well become an exercise in futility, because, as my if there is any one thing that I have learned, as I have lived out my life to this point, it would be the reality that, in this life, there are no guarantees that I will be able to achieve anything, since so much of what happens to me in this life can be attributable to circumstances, which are beyond my control. The best that I can hope and pray for is that I never lose my sense of idealism and corresponding abili ability to aspire to that higher ideal, whatever that ideal might be, or regardless of how elusive that ideal might be. As my life experience has taught me, being viewed as successul,bythe society of which we are apart can, as my life experience has taught me, be a fleeting thing. One moment you are viewed a being a success, next moment you are viewed as somewhat less than successful. On the other hand, once again as my life experience has taught me; the sense of both spiritual and emotionaltional fulfillment attained by persuing idealistic goals, regardless of whether I ever achieve these goals is something which cannot be taken from me. Bottom line, as you live your life, persue fulfillment not success. Nothing wrong with being successful, however any sense I have of being successful can disappear, amid the challenges I face, as I live out my life. A sense Success can be a fleeting thing, because because it is contingent on how others view us at any given moment and in the context of a particular situation. Any sense of fulfillment, on the other hand is detemnined by how the manner in which I live out my life is evaluated when viewed through both my own eyes and the eyes of God. T o persue either fullilment or success, it's your choice. Good luck with that.