Grads, Go to Work -- Outside County


Although no school has invited me to deliver a commencement address this year, I prepared one just in case I received a last-minute invitation:

Graduates, welcome to a world that defies rational explanation.

For the past 12 years, you all have been told that you should graduate from high school because without a high school diploma you won't be able to get a good job.

Well, you are now about to graduate, and how many of you have jobs lined up?

Not too many hands. Any of you been able to locate summer jobs? I see a few smiles out there in the audience, but judging from the frowns on most of your faces, it looks as though many of you shortly will be joining the ranks of the unemployed.

Like so much in life, this is a predicament not of your making.

By finishing high school, you have fulfilled your obligation to be schooled. Some of you applied yourselves and learned your lessons. You know how to write clearly, think critically and compute accurately. You also have matured so that you would know how to work respectfully and fairly with customers, colleagues and competitors. Employers would love to have you on their payrolls.

Some of you may not have been so diligent in your studies. Dating, athletics and having a good time may have seemed more important at the time, but now you have to accept the consequences. Just because you didn't graduate with outstanding grades doesn't mean you are unemployable. It means that you will have to work harder at convincing future employers that you will be good, productive employees.

Regardless of which category you find yourselves, you have joined the ranks of our society known as high school graduates.

With that diploma, you used to be able to find employment, albeit entry-level, but don't expect that to happen here in Carroll. The few jobs that are available -- working at a fast food restaurant, for example -- are typically not the first steps in promising careers. These are good jobs for a short period, like summer, but if you are looking for a job that will launch a career, you had best look for one outside this county.

The people who have been running Carroll County for the past couple of decades have not done a good job in developing the economic opportunities for companies that would provide the jobs you are now qualified to fill.

Instead of making the kind of commitment needed to attract employers, county leaders expected business development to take place naturally. They didn't make the investments that would attract employers or spend the money to promote the county as an attractive place to work.

They did, however, invest a great deal of money in the county education system. There was a time when Carroll students had the lowest levels of achievement. Not any more. Carroll's students now are among the best in Maryland. You are the products of that change in direction.

It's too bad that employers outside of this area seeking to relocate or start new operations don't know that Carroll is home to a talented pool of human capital.

Since the opportunities in this county are limited, you will have to take the initiative and look elsewhere -- just as your parents and TC older siblings have. Yes, they live here, but they spend a lot of time in their cars driving to work elsewhere.

As with so much in life, you will have to take the initiative. You will have to look for work in places dozens of miles from your home. I only hope you all have cars and enough money to keep them fueled for your long commutes.

Some of you may have already realized that even with your new high school diploma, your lifetime earning potential is constricted. You are right. By graduating with a bachelor's degree, over a lifetime you can earn about $1.4 million, compared to $821,000 with a high school diploma.

Some of you have recognized the benefit of more education and will continue your studies at trade schools, community colleges, colleges and universities.

For those who have chosen this route, good luck, and I hope that when you attend a future commencement, you will have better luck locating a job than your friends who are ending their educations. Unfortunately, once you obtain that college degree, you'll probably work in another metropolitan county, too. Carroll's companies can't absorb all the college graduates this county produces.

We are quickly discovering that a county full of commuters has difficulty sustaining itself. Residential development demands a lot of public services -- schools, roads, water and sewer, parks, libraries. Businesses demand much less in terms of public service relative to the taxes they pay.

You have the ability to change this situation. Despite all that you hear about America's problems, this is still a country of opportunity. But it is up to you to seek it out.

If you don't like the current state of the world, you can change it. You can vote people into office who will make economic development a first priority. You can start your own businesses.

Change means risk. Embrace risk, because without it there is no reward. But also remember that the biggest rewards in life are not measured in terms of dollars and cents.

I subscribe to Christopher Morley's definition of success: "To live your own life in your own way."

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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