There are moments in life that bring huge change. You could call these watershed moments.

One such moment comes when a child leaves the home environment and enters the structured world of education. Most of us remember the first day we went to school. As a parent, I can sure remember when my daughters began at Wilkesboro Elementary School.

Everyone who graduated from high school can recall walking across the stage to receive a diploma. High school diplomas are hard-won things. They represent 13 years of striving and learning.

For those of my generation, it was only 12 years. We didn’t have the kindergarten grade when I arrived at school. Those fortunate enough to attend kindergarten at that time did it through a church.

In any case, Wilkes County’s high school students are reaching a milestone with graduation this week. I’m assuming that, by now, the graduates will have given some thought to the immediate future.

Some will leave home for a four-year college, while others will stay in this area for two years while attending Wilkes Community College. Some will enter the military and still others will enter the workforce.

In any case, the ball is squarely in the court of the graduate. The whole of life lies ahead. Which direction will you choose? This can be a pretty daunting moment, but an exciting one as well.

The late Napoleon Hill, sort of a self-help movement ancestor, said, “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” A truer sentence has never been written.

One of the things I have tried to do with my daughters is to get the phrase, “I can’t,” out of their vocabulary. I’ve always told them that “I can’t is the closest relative of I won’t.”

I also told them to follow their passion, that they could do what they love and make a living at it. That’s not an original notion; I borrowed it from the late Dr. Wayne Dyer, to my mind one of the most inspirational authors who ever put pen to paper.

The combination of passion for something, the development of a plan of action and being fearless enough to seize opportunities puts people in line to experience great success in life. But none of this will come to much of a good result, generally speaking, without prayer.

One of the best friends I ever had, the late Tim Wilson, put it succinctly: “Ask God for and help and do the next right thing.” When I feel overwhelmed, I remember those words, back up and put this admonition into practice.

Another thing for graduates to consider is the ability to leave their culture. Being successful might mean enduring comments from well-meaning family members such as, “Don’t get too big for your britches” or “Don’t get above your raising.” This is just someone being concerned that they are somehow losing you or perhaps even an outward expression of fears about lack of control.

I’m not suggesting that anyone turn a blind eye to the many wonderful lessons loved ones have imparted. What I am saying is that each person has to follow his or her own path. Mom and Dad or grandma and grandpa can’t live your life for you.

Another thing I try to practice is open-mindedness, which causes me to remember one of the best bumper stickers I ever saw: “It’s too bad people with closed minds don’t have closed mouths.” Don’t reject something (or someone) just because it’s different. Eccentricity makes life a whole lot more interesting.

Now a word on kindness. The world needs a heck of a lot more of it, but it has to occur one person at a time. It you want to make the world a softer, happier place to live, then deliberately practice being decent, courteous and kind to your fellow travelers in this life. Smile more and criticize less.

And, by the way, if you learn how to practice all of this perfectly all of the time, come find me. I need you to teach me how to do it.

Best of luck to all of Wilkes County’s graduates. I hope your lives become wildly more interesting and fulfilling that you now can imagine.  

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