Inside the Newsroom

News, commentary, insight on local happenings and fun from the staff of The Saline Reporter and Milan News-Leader.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Milan Graduation Stirs Memories

While growing up, I was never really excited about graduation. Sure, it was a ceremony and celebration marking an accomplishment one should be proud of, but to me it felt like any other day. It was just the next step to something bigger and I would celebrate when I reached that final goal. While attending Milan High School's 123rd commencement Sunday to capture video for our Web site, however, I gained a new perspective.

I graduated from Whitmore Lake High School in 1986 and it was a small class of about 50. I like to brag I was in the top 10 of my graduating class, and I was. But when there are only 50 people, that really means you're an average student, which I was. I got into Eastern Michigan University with a 17 ACT score and on probationary status. While attending EMU full time, I worked 30 or more hours a week as a waitress at Bennigan's to pay for my college tuition, rent, bills -- everything. I didn't receive financial help from my parents.

My grades there were average as well, partly because I was distracted with work while earning my keep, but also because I didn't have a deep interest in some of the subject matter. It was in my journalism, public relations, magazine writing and political science classes, where I excelled. In fact, it was those classes that helped me raise my grade point average high enough to finally declare my major during my senior year so I could graduate. It required a 2.5. I graduated with a 2.7, but my grades in my area of concentration, which was journalism and political science, were A's and B's. It was economics, philosophy, algebra and biology that killed me.

While I attended my high school graduation out of tradition, I didn't attend my college graduation. Instead, I worked. I served families who were celebrating their child's graduation, and I couldn't figure out what the big deal was. "You want a cake, for what? I graduated today, too, and here I am."

I figured it was like any other day and I thought graduating with a bachelor's degree, much like earning my high school diploma five years earlier, was pretty basic stuff. "What's the big deal?" I thought. "This is what's expected of everyone. You need a college degree to get a 'real' job." I didn't take the time to pat myself on the back because I was just doing what I needed to do to get to the next step -- to start a career that I would love and continue to be totally independent and self-reliant. I never took the time to take stock in what I had accomplished. I was on to the next dream -- a career in journalism, which, by the way, took a year to start. I thought I'd celebrate then. But after you get where you want to be, there's another dream -- from reporter to associate editor to editor for me. Do I celebrate now?

No, now, I am too busy to celebrate. I have two newspapers to put out, a blog to maintain, video to shoot in the community for our Web site, employee payroll, staff reviews, 100-plus stories to edit each week, newspapers to paginate, pages to proofread, photos to take myself and submitted photos to process, press releases to review, freelancers to coordinate, deadlines to meet, phone calls to return and 300 e-mails a day to peruse.

But after attending Milan High School's Portfolio Night last month and hearing the personal stories of some of these teens and how much they have struggled to get to the point of graduation, I gained a new appreciation for celebrating every accomplishment. One girl told us she would be the first in her family to graduate from high school. Another said her mother was struggling financially, worked several jobs and had a hard time getting her to school on time because they lived outside the district and only had one car, so she was often tardy and missed a lot of days. Hearing stories like theirs and then attending the graduation ceremony in person, with hundreds of parents, siblings and grandparents filling the gymnasium's bleachers to show their support, makes me want to cheer them on and tell them "good job," too. I want to encourage them to keep going, no matter how hard it is. Get that bachelor's, and for some a master's and doctorate. Get that technical training. Do whatever it takes to meet your goals and achieve your dreams.

And celebrate along the way because you deserve it. Celebrating is part of the joys of life. Not celebrating won't get you where you want to go any faster and once you get there, there may be less time to reflect.

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