To the class of 2010: the gift of endurance

Spring always comes late to the North Country. Few are more ready for this change than high-school seniors, who are edging toward graduation, freedom and adulthood. Twelfth-graders are counting the days, but also settling within them is a gentle nostalgia for the familiar that will soon be lost to an uncertain future.For me, the season is equally complex. I remember many of them as gangly, immature freshmen, and then – bang – they’re young adults. It’s an amazing transformation as well as conformation that Darwin was right – most everyone gets better with age. Still, I wonder how well we did preparing them for what lies ahead.I hope through the crowded curriculum we at least taught them the basics – reading, writing and arithmetic. I wonder whether I embedded life’s hard lesson into my curriculum, kindled a spark of passion deep within them, or demonstrated decency or a tiny bit of courage when I thought they weren’t looking. I search for wisdom that will make sense of it all or possibly let me off the hook. I will no doubt brag about my most celebrated students and take credit for their success, but what about the rest? Many more will live hard, humble lives and a few will wreak havoc on society. But right now they are on the threshold of graduating from high school – an accomplishment that eluded the vast majority of my grandfather’s generation and most of my father’s. It is something worth celebrating and contemplating.The best wisdom that I can muster is to say that the true test of any accomplishment is endurance. It is too often the most overlooked characteristic in our culture. The graduating seniors have endured not only my classes, but dozens of others. They have tolerated mountains of information, a battery of standardized tests and shifting initiatives, programs and curricula. In the end, I’m sorry to say, they probably retained very little. But so what? I can barely keep the names of my own children straight.After all, they have been bombarded with $135,000 (the average cost of 13 years of public education) of academic artillery attacks and, they are still standing and curious about the world around them. Now that they’ve sipped from the fountain of knowledge, I hope they will return to it often and that their thirst will never be quenched. Their ability to stick with it may be the best preparation for the real world, and the secret that separates winners from losers.The New Yorker ran an interesting story recently that probed the question, can self control be taught? Researchers tempted toddlers with a single marshmallow now or waiting for a larger quantity later. Those who could control their immediate desires got lots of marshmallows, but as the years passed they also found success and happiness that far surpassed the once impulsive little tykes (who in time became sad, defeated whiners). It makes sense to me. We live in a world that is tempted by excess, spoiled by a sense of entitlement and often denied the vital lessons of restraint, patience and hard work. Previous generations had to struggle to get by and thus learned to defer, prioritize, save, work and eventually succeed. Our abundant society too often wants to fast-forward past the hard work and go right to success and keep hitting replay. But not everyone, not all the time. So – to the class of 2010: congratulations on enduring it all and on passing the marshmallow test.

Jeff Woodburn of Dalton is a writer and teacher.

Categories: Opinion