The tassels atop the mortar-board hats have been moved from side to side, the richly-colored gowns have been placed on their hangers and returned to the schools, and the members of the Class of 1993 have completed one of the great rites of passage into adulthood.
Over the past week, these graduating seniors have listened to eloquent, poignant speeches from their teachers, classmates and community leaders. They have been reminded how their hard work and desire to succeed have brought them this far. They have been told the friendships they have formed will be remembered forever. They have been told that the values and knowledge they have acquired at home and in school will give them a map with which to navigate the Bold New World that awaits them.
As far as it goes, they have been told the truth. But what they haven't been told is just as important.
What they haven't been told is that the Bold New World is somewhere beyond the borders of Hernando County. What they haven't been told is that if they are not bound for college, but still would like to land a job that has growth potential and a decent wage, they probably will have to leave the county to find it. And those who are fortunate enough to go on to college will find that reality goes double for them four years from now. The more educated you are, the less likely you are to find an appropriate, challenging job back in Hernando County.
What the Class of '93 hasn't been told is that the adults who have ruled their lives for the past 17 years haven't done enough to provide for their childrens' transition into the world of work.
We have failed to provide them with enough high-technology companies that will hire them, train them and offer them job security. We have failed to provide them with the jobs that come with the coveted "clean, light industries," which are so often sought, but so seldom found.
And, by failing to do an adequate job of putting the graduates to work here, we have tacitly contributed to the demise of the family unit. With our lip-service-only commitment to providing varied and sufficient employment, all the boasts of putting "family first" and "taking care of our own" fly right out the window, much like our children will fly out on airplanes to far-away places where good jobs and financial security exist.
And what will those who fly away find when they get there?
They'll find that their out-of-state peers have a decided advantage over them in terms of the education they have received. The state of Florida simply isn't doing the job when it comes to providing top-notch education for our children.
Why? Because legislators keep trying to improve education as if they were shopping in the bargain basement of a discount department store. In one minute, lawmakers and bureaucrats wring they hands over low test scores and high dropout rates. In the next minute, they cut funding for vital educational resources. You won't hear it in their words, but their actions will confirm it: they are content with such disgraceful conditions as overcrowded classrooms, too few books and outdated curriculums.
What can be done? Nothing for the Class of '93. But it's not too late to get folks in Florida to insist that our elected representatives in Tallahassee get serious about better education.
Business lobbyists in this state must spend less time trying to get laws passed to provide tax breaks, and spend more time demanding that education be a funding priority. Their influence is considerable and they should use it to establish a mandate for educational excellence in Florida.
And the state must be put on notice that rural counties such as Hernando need funding for vocational and technical training just as much as the state's urban areas, where most of those tax dollars seem to be allocated.
But where have we gone wrong on the local level? Simply put, we haven't realized the importance of "growing our own."
We have not placed enough emphasis on informing our high school-age children about the jobs that exist in our limited manufacturing industries and technical businesses.
Schools and businesses haven't worked together closely enough to place students in internships. Our businesses haven't set aside enough of their profits to sponsor scholarships to students who truly want to return to their homes and embark on long-term careers with local companies. And we haven't been willing to commit the time to be mentors to those who exhibit a genuine desire to learn and stay close to home.
Sound pessimistic? Sadly, yes. And while I wish the best of luck to the Class of '93, and all the seniors who will follow them in the coming years, I cannot, in good conscience, paint a rosy picture of what awaits them in the Bold New World.
Hope springs eternal, but I must remain rooted in reality: A reality created by adults who don't always tell the whole truth.