Congrats grads … but watch yourselves

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To those local seniors who will be graduating over the next few days, congratulations and best wishes for the future.

And while I hate to add to the pile-on of adult advice-givers you’re having to put up with these days, I’ll go ahead and throw in my two cents.

First off, keep an eye on yourselves for the next few years. What I mean is that – whether you’re going off to college, some kind of technical school, the military, or just entering the workforce – you’re going to be coming face-to-face with some pretty big changes and challenges in the near future. And getting off course or on a bad track can happen lot easier and faster than you might think.

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If you’re like I was at your age, the last thing you want to hear is some old dude telling you to stay away from … well, let’s just call them excessive lifestyle choices. And having engaged in more than my fair share of stupid and extreme behavior in my younger days, I realize I don’t have much room to talk in that department.

But, like I said, just watch yourself – and keep in mind that one night of bad decisions can lead to years or even a lifetime of unwanted payback. And if you let making bad choices become a habit and a lifestyle, then you’ve really got no cause to complain about all the bad outcomes that will surely follow.

And, for love of mercy, do not become a frequent flyer in this newspaper’s weekly police and court reports. There is no good reason or excuse for that.

You might also engage in a little self-reflection over the summer to take stock of who you are and want kind of person you want to become. What about yourself do you want to keep, and what do want to change or let go? What do you value? What things are most important to you?

And if faith is one of those things you list as important, then you might want to give some thought to how you’re going to go about maintaining and preserving that faith – particularly if you’re going off to a college or university in the fall.

From my own experience, I can testify that most of modern academia isn’t exactly supportive and encouraging when it comes to religious faith – or even believing in God at all. And you will probably encounter some professors who get a kick out of separating small-town kids from what they view as irrational superstition and backwards thinking. And you will almost certainly experience quite a bit of peer pressure to conform to a worldview that does not line up with how you’ve been brought up.

But, at the end of the day, it will be up to you to decide whether to keep your faith or let it go. Keeping it won’t be easy, but, in my estimation, faith is one of the most important things you can hold on to in life. Guard it and protect it, and seek out a community of spiritual support, whether that’s a church, faith-based campus organization, or just a group of Christian friends.

My final piece of advice is not to hold your own happiness hostage. And what I mean by that is don’t let your happiness or enjoyment of the present moment be conditional on a bunch of stuff you don’t’ have complete control over – like finding the perfect romantic partner or achieving wealth or fame or whatever it is you want. Have goals and aspirations for the future and diligently pursue those things, but make a good habit out of choosing to be happy and content in the present tense.

And being happy is a lot easier if you’re proud of who you are with the integrity of character to back that up.

But, anyway, that’s enough from this old guy. Good luck, graduates, and Godspeed!

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