Where Do You Go From Here?

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This is an open address to the students of today and the future teachers and leaders of tomorrow to give them some food for thought as they begin a brand new school year.

Good morning. I would like to begin my remarks today by asking you a question. You have probably been asked such a question many times by different people such as parents, teachers, family members, and friends. But, at the beginning of this brand new school year, I believe that now is the perfect time to ask again, perhaps in a slightly different way. The question is, “What do you plan to do with your life after you have departed these hallowed halls of learning for the last time?” What will you do with your life when there are no more classes to attend, no more homework assignments and projects to complete, no more classroom instruction, and no more exams to take? When the school bell has sounded for the last time, the teacher has dismissed the class, and all the good-byes have been said, what happens then? In other words, “Where do you go from here?”

Students in ClassroomNow, I was a student once, a few decades ago, and I realize that there are some of you who cannot wait until the “warden” turns the key and opens the proverbial jail house doors and gives you your freedom. To you, as it was to me then, it does not matter where we go from here, just as long as it is away from here. But, my young friends it does very much matter. Knowing where you are going and having a plan to get there can mean the difference between heading down a track that leads to a life of misery and woe, or one that leads to a life of happiness and success. Some of you may be thinking that it is much too early in the game to be concerned about such things. But, it is never too early to begin thinking about your future. You cannot stand in the ticket line at the train station forever trying to decide where your destination will be and which train to take to get there. Sooner or later you have to make a decision and get aboard one train or another. As the old adage says, “Time and tide wait for no man”, and so if you are not careful, you will find yourself standing at the station long after the train that you needed has departed, leaving you to wonder yet again, “Where do I go from here?”

Still, there are others of you who have your trip already mapped out. As the time draws near for you to leave on your journey, you continuously update your itinerary with immediate goals and objectives to meet, all the while never losing sight of your destination. When it comes time to step aboard the train you will have already purchased your ticket and know exactly which train will take you to your desired destination, and which track that train will travel on.

Now, I realize that making a decision about what you will do with your life is not necessarily an easy one. It is definitely not a decision that you will probably make at this very time, but it is something that does deserve your consideration. In this life there so many things to distract you, as well as, so many other things to consider, that making a decision of such great magnitude can prove to be an extremely difficult one.

If someone had asked me the question of what I planned to do with my life after finishing school, my response would probably have been based on my age and grade level at the time. At different stages in our lives we often find our dreams of tomorrow filled with different hopes and aspirations. If you were to ask an elementary school child what he wants to be when he grows up you would probably get such answers as a police officer, a fireman, a school teacher, a doctor, a nurse, a librarian, etc. Some may also reply that they want to be just like their mothers and fathers. At such a young age we are very impressionable and almost any and everything seems like an exciting opportunity. If you were to ask the same question to a middle school student, you would find that our answers are a little more refined for we have begun to mature in age and are becoming a little more focused on the direction in which we want to go in life. Some of us even begin to tailor our studies around our goals for the future. By the time we reach junior high school we have narrowed our life choices down even further, and by the time we reach high school, we may have selected the institution of higher learning that we want to attend, the branch of Military Service in which we wish to enlist, or an occupation that we want to pursue in order to fulfill our life’s dreams and expectations.

Dare to dream, study your alternatives and never give up and never lose hope. Although there may be times when you feel that you are wasting your time by being in school and want to quit, don’t give in and never give up. Stay the course. Always remember that the winner of the race is not necessarily the swiftest runner, but he that will stay his course and remained focused and endure to the end – to greatest success!

There is a Greek proverb that says, “Whatever is good to know is difficult to learn” Everything that you learn while in school, will not always come easy, nevertheless, there are a lot of good things that you need to know that will help you later in life. If you really have a wish to learn, don’t just come to school day after day and sit at your desk like a proverbial bump on a log. Get involved and take an active part in the learning process. There is a Native American saying that goes like this, “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand.” There is also an ancient Chinese saying that “Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back”. In order to make it upstream in life you have to become actively involved and man the oars and help move the boat in the direction that you wish it to go. The same philosophy applies to your learning and education. If you want to advance in your learning and education, you have to become actively involved in moving the process along. Otherwise, you will always find yourself dropping back and falling behind. Someone has wisely said, “Education, like the mass of our age’s inventions, is after all, only a tool; everything depends upon the workman who uses it.”

Also remember, my young friends, as Frederick William Robertson, an English divine, once said, “Instruction ends in the school-room, but education ends only with life.” Life is a continual arena of education and learning. Even after your school days are long over, you will find yourself saying like the great painter, Michelangelo “I am still learning”. And as Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist, lecturer, and poet has told us, “What we have learned from others becomes our own reflection”.

Finally, may I leave you with this one final thought in the words of William Butler Yeates, an Anglo-Irish poet and playwright, and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature, who said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. Always have a dream. Do everything that you can to keep hope alive. As my father used to say, “Just stay focused!” Stay the course, always with your destination in sight, and knowing where you are going from here. When you fulfill your first dream, you may discover something previously unimaginably more desirable that is now within reach.  Don’t ever let your fire go out! Keep those fires forever burning bright!