I’m currently preparing a commencement address for one of many graduating classes who are about to enter the next phase of their lives. This group happens to be in Florida, but consider, for a moment, how many young people from coast to coast are approaching this milestone.
The U.S. Census Bureau tells us that 3.3 million high school diplomas will be awarded this year and just over 3 million college degrees will be conferred on campuses all over the nation. Add that to the 1.2 million projected high school drop-outs, and we’re looking at close to 8 million young people who are about to embark upon what must be an exciting, but frightening, journey.
Some will go on to the next level of education, some into the work force, and some into military service. While a good education is a wonderful thing, it’s only a spoke in the wheel of what they need to face the challenges which await them. Other elements might include experience, street smarts, luck, common sense, support, role models, good advice and the wisdom which only a mentor can provide.
I consider this assignment to be a rare privilege as well as an awe-inspiring responsibility. At this moment, I really don’t know what I’m going to say to these students. However, in researching many possibilities, I know what I’d like to share with every adult in the nation as these young people prepare to enter society at a time in which they must face a great number of daunting challenges.
In reviewing those elements I mentioned earlier which may be of assistance to these graduates, you’ll quickly see that many of them can be provided by US — you and I … as mentors. And it doesn’t have to stop with students. We can pave the way and make the journey a little less ominous by sharing whatever knowledge and experience we may have gained over the years with anyone who has not yet had that opportunity.
I can best summarize the power and importance of mentoring by sharing another Generational Gem that was written by an acclaimed author who was born in 1860. I mention this date as I find it amazing that this short poem is as applicable today as it was at that time. Maybe even more so. “The Bridge Builder” was written by Will Allen Dromgoole in 1900. She also wrote over 7,500 poems, 5,000 essays, and published 13 books. This particular poem remains quite popular to this day and has even graced plaques on real bridges across the country. It is also used by many fraternities to promote the idea of building links for the future and passing the torch along to the next generation.
Read it over and consider the importance of your role in passing this critical torch to those facing the many growing challenges we see today. Then do something about it!
THE BRIDGE BUILDER
An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”