School’s out for summer,
School’s out with fever,
School’s out completely.”
— Alice Cooper, “School’s Out”
The first day of the rest of the lives of northeast Alabama’s high-school graduates has arrived. Let’s encourage these former students to enjoy it while they can.
They’ve earned it.
In Alabama, graduating from high school is no insignificant matter. The state’s dropout rates and graduation rates are notoriously unacceptable, particularly in rural and low-income areas. Examples of that problem dot this side of the state’s map like a teenager’s pinup board.
If anything, that’s reason enough to wildly cheer those students who will spend the coming summer months resting from their senior year’s final exams and preparing for the next phase of their lives. As illustrated recently in The Star, there are plenty success stories to pick from; Mario Reed, who set a wonderful example for educational perseverance by returning to school to earn his Anniston High diploma at age 33, is no doubt atop that list.
Granted, it is an extremely difficult time to enter the adult world. The lingering effects of the Great Recession still permeate virtually all conversations. Jobs are scarce, incomes are stagnant or reduced, unemployment is high, options aren’t bountiful.
Thus, these new high-school graduates will get an early — and perhaps harsh — look at adult life in this part of American history. They and their families should be prepared.
For those going to college, it’s all about money — for tuition and earning potential following their next graduation day. Tuition at most Alabama universities has risen dramatically in recent years, which burdens low- and middle-income families and puts a premium on earning scholarships.
Unfortunately, those tuition increases also put a four-year college education out of reach of far too many Alabamians who can’t afford such exorbitant fees. One of this state’s worst blights is the low affordability of college education at its public universities.
That’s a reality of which thousands of this week’s high school graduates are surely already aware.
For those entering the work force, good luck. The scarcity of jobs remains pronounced. The good news is Calhoun County’s unemployment rate has fallen this spring. The flip side is it remains in double digits — 10.4 percent — which means recent graduates needing a paycheck have no choice but to compete against a tide of jobless yet experienced workers.
All this real-world seriousness can be overwhelming for 18-year-olds. That’s why we urge families to wrap themselves around these newly minted graduates and shepherd them through these frightening, exhilarating days.
What they have accomplished is real. It can’t be taken away. A high-school diploma is the first of many steps to becoming productive Alabamians.
What’s important now is what they do with their lives’ next phase. Wise choices, strong work ethics and a little humor will do them well as they enter adulthood.