It’s that time of the year when hundreds of Virgin Islands students will walk across the stage in a brief but significant moment that every parent has been anticipating from the day their child was born – high school graduation. Receiving a diploma signals several transitions in the life of a child – for one it’s usually a sign that you’ve become an adult. Most children graduate around the age of 18, which is the legal age of adulthood in the United States. Having earned a high school diploma means that you should be equipped with enough knowledge to make a living on your own. So for all of you celebrating a high school graduation this year, I send out heartfelt congratulations. You worked hard and have accomplished a major milestone. Celebrate! You deserve it!
But when the celebrations are over, know that high school graduation is just one of many milestones you should aim to reach. I challenge you to earn a degree. Note, I said earn a degree, not just go on to college. Because too many Virgin Islands children go on to college, but never finish. Too many Virgin Islands children start college then get caught up in everything else around them and think that starting college is enough. Don’t get me wrong, you must start, if you plan to finish. But you must finish in order to earn that degree – whether it is through college, technical school, or the military.
Yes, more than likely you will have to pay for college. Yes, going to college does not guarantee you a job after you graduate. I know of all the things you’re being told that may detract you from the idea of starting and finishing college. But I also know that college graduates earn more money than high school graduates. And because they earn more, they can usually provide a better lifestyle for themselves and their families.
With that being said, I ask you to delay having children for at least four years. Here are the reasons why. No matter what the world tells you – at the age of 18 or 19 – you’re still babies. There are so many things that you do not know, so many things that you have yet to experience. And having a baby now will change your life forever.
Ok, let me break it down. Four years ago most of you were getting ready for high school. You had just graduated from junior high and were excited about crossing that threshold into the life of a highschooler. For a few minutes, think of your eight-grade self. Think of everything you knew when you had just graduated from eight grade. Now think of everything you know now. Big difference eh? You see the difference that four years make! It’s the same difference that the next four years will make. Over the next four years while you are journeying through self-discovery and learning independence you will become a different person. You should become a better person. Don’t you want to give your children the best of you? A you who is more mature? A you who will know so much more four years from now than what you know now? A you who is financially, emotionally and mentally better able to meet your children’s needs? And what is the best way to fill the days of the next four years? With more schooling of course!
If you don’t know where to start or how to navigate through the college application process reach out to a college of choice – they have employees who are paid to do just that. If you’re still unsure, reach out to someone you know personally who has already gone through the process. It may seem perplexing, but you can do it.
Do not let the lack of money prevent you from furthering your education. Grants, scholarships and loans are available. While I hope that you can get grants and scholarships, not everyone will. Taking a loan is a viable option. Look at it as an investment in your future. People take loans for cars and homes every day. (Some even take loans for flat screen TVs and Carnival costumes.) A college loan may be your best investment ever – and it can never be repossessed. Oh, and another thing about scholarships: You must keep your grades up in order to keep receiving them! So while the nightclubs will be running a different promotion for every night of the week to lure you in, know that the club owners and DJs probably have already reached their goals. Remember your purpose to not to party, it’s to get a degree. After you’ve started college, a number of on-campus jobs should also be available.
The first two years of college are probably the most challenging. By the second year, after the freshman-fun-year has come to an end, it’s easy to become impatient. Everything may seem to get too hard and will be taking too long. If you get that feeling, I urge you go map out your entire college years. Make a personal paradigm that lists each and every course that you must take to get your degree. Use it as a road map. When you feel like giving up, refer back to it to keep you on track. Create a vision board. Never give up and never forget your goal – a degree.
People who think that college is just an academic journey are so wrong. The fundamental part of college is the academics. When you earn a degree, it means you have learned what is needed to apply yourself in your particular career choice. But in college you’ll also learn so much more: people skills, time management, leadership, perseverance, work ethic, money management… the list goes on. As a more mature person, you’ll most likely attract a more mature partner. The household income of two degreed individuals is significantly higher than that of two high school graduates.
Poverty usually occurs in cycles. And in the Virgin Islands we have one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the nation. Statistics show that the lower your level of education, the more likely you are to be in poverty. The more you struggle to get by, the more your children struggle.
Now I’m not saying that if you may have already had a baby while in high school that your future is doomed. Not at all. One of my best friends had my first godson a few days before our high school graduation. And she is doing quite well. But it took tons of hard work and dedication for her to accomplish what she has done. It also took a great deal of encouragement and support from her family. So if you already have a child or children, try to delay having any more until after you get your degree. Build a strong support system of people who believe in you and are willing to help you along the way.
But if you don’t have any children please don’t start now – this goes for both males and females.
On the topic of baby-making, please choose wisely the people with whom you become intimate. And above all else, protect yourselves all the time, every time.
I know that you are excited about graduating. And you should be. But if you think that high school graduation is anything, wait until you feel what it’s like getting your first college degree! When it’s all said and done, your 23-year-old self will thank you, and so will your future children.