Do not sit it out

Richard Mahoney—My View
Do not sit it out

It is officially summer, a season of weddings, barbecues, golf games, road trips and great expectations. The grass is green, gardens and crops are just beginning to flourish, and students and teachers are celebrating the end of another school year.

Graduation ceremonies are a mix of emotions. For some, these are the most important and happiest events of their young lives. It is a time to reflect on accomplishments and to look ahead to the future with hope and enthusiasm, or, in some cases, dread. The high achievers will fondly remember the glory days of high school. Others, those who were “different,” cannot get away fast enough from the place.

This year’s graduates have been through some tough, unprecedented, times. They lived through the COVID-19 pandemic, which subjected them to remote learning and canned most fun activities. The pandemic had a major impact on the mental health of Ontario students. A 2022 study found 60 per cent said the scourge made them feel depressed about the future, and 39 per cent reported it made their mental health worse.

Life is back to normal, sort of. However, like every new generation, this one will encounter new challenges and opportunities. And there will always be an ample supply of free advice.

Graduation time is the season for rolling out words of wisdom, to heed the counsel of certain older, and presumably wiser, folks, who have been there and done that. There are the standard life rules to follow. Buy low, sell high. Dream big. Work hard. Make mistakes. Be kind. Just do it. Or, as that sage Yogi Berra said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

The classic poem, “If,” by Rudyard Kipling, contained suggestions that people of all ages ought to heed. To paraphrase, if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, you should be fine.

Shakespeare’s line, “Neither a lender, nor a borrower be,” is apt considering high interest rates and uncertain economic conditions.

And, of course, music, such as the plaintive “Photograph” song by Nickelback, can often capture the mood of young people coming of age, moving on, and remembering how silly they had been.

For years, a favourite graduation tune has been “I hope you dance,” a wonderfully sappy song by Lee Ann Womack, who hopes that you never lose your sense of wonder and never take anything for granted. “And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance…I hope you dance.”

Do not be a spectator. Yet bromides are of little practical assistance when you are wondering how you can avoid spending the rest of your life in your parents’ basement, or finding a job that will not soon be replaced by a robot.

Apart from the perils of artificial intelligence, today’s graduates must face the widespread perception that young people are spoiled, entitled and hooked on social media. Some of them are indeed lost causes, but do not tar them all with the same brush. If older folks look way back to their graduating class, they will remember that there were a few, who like the character in “Photograph,” wound up with criminal records. But the majority wound up leading good, productive and happy lives.

There are disturbing trends. For instance, the Cornwall Police Service has reported that youth crime in the city increased 11 per cent between 2022 and 2023. In the same period, there has been a 90 per cent increase in youth property crime and a 25 per cent increase in youth violent crime. The most common offences have been bail violations, shoplifting and — a sign of our times — non-consensual distribution of intimate images.

But we must remember that a small percentage of the population is responsible for criminal activities. The do-gooders outnumber the delinquents.

There are several examples of people doing the right thing. Take inspiration from the countless numbers of volunteers who freely give of their time, money and talents to support worthy causes. Be heartened by the accomplishments of people like Neha Chugh, founder of Chugh Law Professional Corporation, who received an honorary diploma from St. Lawrence College. She said the honour “signifies change, a focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion, and acceptance of newcomers to this wonderful community.” After she came to the area in 2014, she not only built a successful practice, she also earned the respect of her peers and the community for fighting the good fight. A role model for women of colour, she urged St. Lawrence graduates, “Be courageous! Say yes to new opportunities that push your boundaries of comfort and safety. You don’t know where your life is going to take you and it can be very uncomfortable to stand up for what is right.”

That should be enough inspiration for a while. What do you think? Let me know at

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