Loose Ends: The most important thing I learned was ______________

Dolly Viscardi

MEEKER I Graduation speakers from all walks of life usually touch on this theme and often contain some version of this sentence. Dr. Seuss’s beloved book, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” is one favorite gift book given to all ages of students for a matriculation ceremony. Some other gift books contain pithy quotes from successful individuals.

One common thread is the emphasis on broadening one’s horizons. Most everyone assumes that because a student leaves the community to try to gain some training or education, they will be able to “spread their wings and fly.” What is often missing for many students is the extension of every good thing they have gotten from growing up here. It is that sense of community.

Small towns often give individuals the emotional support they have gotten so used to from their families and friends. School and community activities are filled with mentors. These individuals provide students with what they need to leave home. Every student needs to learn they are important and are loved.

Going to college away from my home was a great experience, but I was tempted to move home more than once that first year. I was desperately homesick and had even pleaded with my mother to let me take a needed break. My friends weren’t allowed to do that either, and the financial help that I needed made it impossible. There was that key element of my learning that I made a difference in my community. I was important to somebody outside my family, as I was offered two unique opportunities before ever leaving the small town that had been so nurturing to me. 

My work at a summer camp run by the Easter Seal Society for six weeks, earning room and board plus a small salary, ensured that I got used to living away from home gradually. I worked in the kitchen, arts and crafts center, and eventually became a counsellor. That experience was not only instrumental in my career choice, it helped me learn that I could leave home for a while and come back. My introduction to a Headstart preschool program also played a strong role in ensuring my future success. 

Everything I learned in school was due to the hands-on experiences I was so fortunate to have been given. Most graduation speakers exhort students to move forward to gain the experience they need to be successful in life. Yet they neglect to mention how important learning to use those experiences is to do just that. 

By DOLLY VISCARDI – Special to the Herald Times