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Applause for all our grads

Posted: Sunday, May 19, 2002

Another school year has gone by, another group of graduates have walked down the aisle and received their diplomas or certificates of participation or unpaid bills for damaged textbooks, and once more my phone didnt ring with a request for a stem-winding commencement speech.

My oldest kid attends Greenbrier High, and my nephew and my cousins oldest son graduated from there Saturday. My wife used to be the assistant principal at Lakeside High, and Ive been a judge there about eight or nine times for the Miss Lakeside Pageant. I once attended Evans High for a semester. I graduated from Harlem High.

So Ive got the pedigree. All I lack is an invitation. Ah, well. Theres always the class of 03.

All kidding aside, I remember an old friend this time of year, the late columnist Aubrey Shaw. Aubrey harbored a not-so-secret desire to be a commencement speaker, and even had a speech ready.

Of course, high school students dont really want to hear ponderous advice from some old guy like Aubrey, or even a not-so-old guy like me. But from Aubrey Shaw, they could have gotten some serious lessons in success through clean living.

Sadly for all of us, they missed their chance; Aub-rey has been gone for a couple of years now. But Im ready to continue his offer to stand before the future leaders of my community and tell them how proud I am of them, how humbled I am by the opportunity to address them, and to let tem know they can go as far in the world as their motivation will carry them.

Well, truth be told, the only thing the grads would hear anyway is the muffled-trumpet sound adult voices make in those Peanuts movies: Waa waa waa, waa waa WAA waa. Listen to advice? Forget it. Theyre too busy applauding their conquest of high school and making plans to storm the beaches of Cancun.

Seriously, Im proud of them all. The news often is full of malarkey about how bad our education system is, but the truth is that high school students today learn more before graduation than I picked up in my entire four (OK, five) years of college.

The folks who think their education is superior because they went to the school in the good old days are deluding themselves. Fewer of todays students drop out. Their literacy levels are higher. Their math skills are far more advanced.

Sure, their manners sometimes stink, and they often dress like they were standing too close when a thrift store exploded. But theyre good kids. Weve pushed them hard, and they met the challenge.

They are kids like Tori Balcer, who almost single-handedly got a distance-learning program started at Lakeside High to make classes in advanced calculus available. Or Roy Cheney, the Evans High hurdler breaking records and blowing away Olym-pic-class competition. Or Tyler Holley, who along with other Harlem High students gave up partying on spring break to work on a New York church. Or Josh Powell, an award-winning Greenbrier High artist.

(OK, I slipped that last one in; Josh is my nephew. But he is a talented artist.)

Hundreds of young adults marched across the Augusta Civic Center stage Saturday, fulfilling dreams for their smiling families and earning the collective applause of a proud community.

Neither Aubrey nor I were privileged to deliver a speech to our fine Columbia County graduates. But if either of us had been asked, we would have gladly seized the honor to tell all these kids how good the world will be because theyre in it.

Way to go, grads. And tell your younger brothers and sisters that, when its their turn to graduate, a very proud and humble speaker is waiting to give them a proper sendoff.

(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)


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