The “American dream,” at least since World War II, has been the term used to loosely define the nature of our nation’s ideals.

This would include civil liberties, democratic principles, equality and the opportunity for upward mobility based on a good work ethic. In other words, peace and prosperity will result if you work hard, obey the law, attempt to fit into society and respect these rights in others.

The notion is that this applies to everyone, no matter one’s position in society, the familial circumstances from which they come, the color of their skin, their gender, their religious inclinations or their sexual orientation. To some, the American dream is an almost sacred reflection of the promise of our nation. To others, it is—to one degree or another—populist fluff which ignores historical and ongoing discrimination and broad economic inequality.

When I was growing up, the practice of the American dream often meant being a faithful employee at a factory, paying bills and raising and promoting the wellbeing of one’s children. These children, as a result of parental sacrifices, would have a shot at a better life and a higher standard of living.

The public education system, including universities, was designed to facilitate and support kids as they moved toward a better life. In fact, public education was designed to reflect orderly, modern mass production, a sort of factory turning out instructed young folks.

With the post-war economy bringing abundant employment opportunities at textile mills and factories of all sorts, generations of North Carolina families advanced themselves. They had a solid, working class existence, starkly contrasting with opportunities available during the suffering experienced during the Great Depression.

With American industry moving out of the country to take advantage of cheap labor and relaxed (or nearly nonexistent) worker safety regulations in developing nations, such jobs have gone away in large part.

It’s still possible to get entry-level factory jobs, but the competition is stiffer, the wages, though improving somewhat, don’t satisfactorily meet the cost of living and there’s the looming possibility that plants will have lay-offs or close altogether.

When looking at the modern job market, young people graduating from high school today need to be far more strategic than their parents ever had to be. They need to consider what the future holds for employment in terms of long-term financial sustainability. They need to then work hard at getting the education and training necessary to get those jobs. There is a reason that people can still get ahead in America, and that is because of a combination of work ethic and vision for the future.

Many high school graduates are happy to be making a couple or three hundred dollars a week. And why not? It seems like pretty good money to begin with. Then come mounting expenses as life goes on: health insurance and medical bills, car insurance, rent or mortgage payments, car payments and so forth.

Most people desire to get married and have children, which brings along a whole new level of expenditure. The need for money can easily start exceeding the ability to make more of it.

Many students here and in the surrounding area have chosen Wilkes Community College as the means to get the training they need to get good jobs or to prepare for studying at four-year colleges and universities. It isn’t overstating the case to say it is their ticket to economic freedom.

Beyond that, education at community colleges is vastly more affordable than universities. In fact, I believe there is no better educational bargain in the U.S.

WCC is a tremendous resource for Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany counties. For so many it has been the difference between a reasonably comfortable existence and a lifetime of poverty.

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