Graduation. Need I say more?    It was a great senior year watching my sister Sharon, a junior, and five senior classmates win our first ever High School State Volleyball championship. This was hard to do back in the day, because Indiana didn’t separate high schools like we do today (Class 5, Class 4, ….) so we had to beat some of the largest high schools in the state. I was fortunate to run as the 7th man on the cross country team that made it to the Semi-State for the 2nd year in a row. I had a personal best I think in the regional at 18:30 for 3.1 miles – that is my two mile time now.

I was fortunate to give a valedictorian speech (great part of being in a class of only 89) to the largest crowd I had ever presented to which tested my shaky public speaking skills, but a little of Grant-like intelligent, Carter-like humor, and Kendal-like poise, and I made it through. Bummed I can’t find a copy of the speech, because I’d love to read it now and opine on the value.

I worked that summer as a dry cleaner assistant – taking orders and cleaning clothes. I learned a lot about chemicals (what cleans what) and even more about customer service. The owner taught me the important of saying “Hello Mr. Wilson” vs. “Hey,” and the kids will tell you I still call people that serve us at restaurants, hotels, or stores by “Hello Jim by looking at their nametag” vs. “Hey.” Always be on the lookout for life lessons – news flash Cousins Camp is a great place to look! On the weekends, I baled hay or straw. If I had any doubts about going to college, this job convinced me I needed to go to college. I’ve never sweat or been as physically exhausted as much as I did doing that job given a hot summer day would cause the top of a barn to be above 120 degrees with minimal air circulation tossing and/or stacking bales of hay and straw hour after hour after hour.

College was everything it was cracked up to be – lots of independence, challenging new things to learn, and opportunities to try new things and meet new people. It wasn’t without its challenges. Learning to live with a stranger, finding out a rural high school in Indiana hadn’t fully prepared me for college, studying at times around the clock or at least that is how I remember it, and being put in situations that challenged faith and courage constantly.

Relative to faith, it was the first time I was surrounded by a LOT of people that didn’t go to church and didn’t believe in God, and some had extremely convincing stories as to why they didn’t. I decided my parents and extended family had turned out just fine with their beliefs that were the foundation of my upbringing, and I stayed the course. I sought out friends that went to church, and made church and prayer a regular part of my life. Almost 50 years, I’m glad I made that choice.

Relative to courage, the independence created an inordinate amount of opportunities to make bad choices. In high school, it was easy to say “My Dad will kill me” and my kids can attest to my fear. In college, my parents weren’t there to keep me in line – I had to make the choices, and boy did it take courage to say “I don’t think I’ll try that drug”, “I don’t think I’ll skip class”, or “I don’t think I’ll do that.” I really think after high school for most it is when you really become a man or a woman, because you have to start making choices that will have a life time of consequences. Yes, it helped me that I had WWJD (What Would Jesus Do even though we didn’t have those bracelets quite yet) or WWDD (What would Don, my dad, Do) to keep me grounded. I’d encourage you to develop your choice helpers – WWMPD – What Would Mimi and Papa Do), because it isn’t easy, but each of you have a great head on your shoulders, and you’ve got a great set of values, and you’ve got AWESOME parents and grandparents that have shown you a great path.

Definitely, chart your own path in this world, but don’t forget that you have Grand Parents, Parents, Uncles, Aunts, and Cousins that are ahead of you – tap into their wisdom. I know most of the older cousins know this, but very few kids have the breadth and depth of experience this family has to offer – use it!