06/27/11 — Sad contrast: Lives ruined early by bad choices attest to a cycle that has to stop

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Sad contrast: Lives ruined early by bad choices attest to a cycle that has to stop

It was a stark contrast to see the announcement of a school graduation right next to a story about a young man in the prime of his life facing criminal charges in connection with a shooting.

The story itself is sad -- a 16-year-old who should have been planning for his future is instead sitting in a jail cell with more than a million dollars in bond.

He even looks like a baby -- a youngster who should be out having fun with friends, not defending himself against assault charges, lucky he was not a suspect in a murder or several murders.

And what is even sadder is that his is not an unusual story.

For generations, Americans have been trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between children who make it and children who don't.

Some say it is about choices. Others attest to a lack of parental supervision and an absence of a good role model as the reasons these children take the wrong road.

Both are probably a big part of their stories.

But on this particular day, the contrast between the newly minted graduates of Southern Wayne High School and this young man was particularly telling. The young people in their caps and gowns had earned high school diplomas and had their futures in front of them. The 16-year-old was facing a lifelong label as a criminal and a tough road to find a meaningful life after a stint in a prison cell.

What separated them was not just those gunshots on that day in May.

The difference between the potential for a quality life for these young people could also be boiled down to one factor -- an education.

A young man or woman who exits high school early faces a long and often disappointing journey, the kind where a happy ending is a miracle, not a possibility. They think they have a handle on what it takes to succeed. They succumb to the lure of easy money and status that comes with toughness -- and a weapon. They get trapped in a vicious circle of crime, drugs and other influences that guarantee that they cannot escape to a new life, a new start.

And, another life with promise is over before it even starts.

A job applicant, without skills, without a diploma and with a criminal record, has little hope of overcoming the obstacles that pushed him or her into a life of crime in the first place. An education is a ticket to a future. Earning a life in the real world can be tough.

And it all started with a bad choice as a teenager.

So as we talk about why education is important and why we need not only great teachers and facilities, but buy-in from the students and parents as well, we should remember the two stories in the newspaper that day -- and think about why the choices that were made by each of these young people matter to our lives and the future of our community.

It might not be our responsibility, but it is in our best interest, to get tougher on absentee and irresponsible parents, and to offer other choices for young people who could easily make a more destructive decision. After-school programs, tutoring and inspiration, that's part of what it takes to change someone's life. And a high school diploma doesn't hurt either.

We can wait for parents to do their jobs, or we can make more demands on them to do their jobs.

We can inspire students to strive for something better, or we can wait for them to complete the required number of credit hours or to reach the age when they can drop out.

We can be proactive or we can fund the consequences of children who do not get the education and examples they need to make it in the world.

One seems like a much better choice than the other.

Published in Editorials on June 27, 2011 11:04 AM