May figures as just another month or perhaps the lead-in to summer, but it’s the end of the year if you’re student, teacher or school administrator. In the case of most high school seniors, it brings the end to one part of life and the start to another.

To borrow from Neil Armstrong, it’s both one small step and one giant leap.

For parents and other adults, it brings forth a cascade of memories, both fond and bittersweet. The awkward mix of emotions comes to mind for this writer each passing year, maybe more so this scribe, who is one year south of the 50-mark – itself, a milestone.

The date of this edition coincides with the 31st anniversary of my graduation from high school. It’s an entirely different world from what we take for granted in 2017.

Some of it comes from the obvious. For example, one of the most popular “slice of life” photos in 1986 showed graduates straightening out each other’s cap and gown in the final moments before they would walk the aisle. Today, it’s shots of graduates taking “selfies.”

Who would’ve even imagined cell phones that took pictures? Or played selection of songs? Or allowed contact with friends here or anywhere in the free world? For that matter, who would’ve thought a tiny phone would rival the wallet or purse as the most cherished item in a person’s possession

Yes, it’s a vastly different world, and it also applies to our employment opportunities. As a graduate from Plaquemine High School, a job at one of the dozen or so petrochemical plants along the Mississippi River meant the ticket to a financially secure future. The same applied to most of us in south Louisiana, which remains a solid industrial region.

Even in 1986, however, chemical companies trained and provided schooling for the right applicants, who landed jobs with the corporations themselves and not just a contractor, many of which come and go. The jobs still relied on manual labor to some degree, much of which has fallen along the wayside.

Some folks, such as yours truly, already knew the path they wanted in life. I stumbled on to my first newspaper job in 1985 when the editor of a now-defunct publication asked me to cover a football game which pit St. John against Doyle, back when the Livingston-based school still had a gridiron program.

The thought of having a byline at 17 in any publication made this writer brash and a bit cocky, all because of a byline. It proved very unwise, particularly a few years later when a new editor knocked me off my high horse and reminded me I had a long way to go.

He was the type of person this writer loved in the morning, hated by lunchtime and loved again by day’s end. He remains one of the very best writers I’ve ever known, but the most important lesson he taught me did not involve the proper way to write a lead paragraph in a story, nor was it about flow from start to finish in an article.

Instead, it involved the urgency to learn, embrace change and keep an open mind. As he reminded this scribe as a 20-year-old: “If you want to keep this job, the best advice I can offer is for you to open your eyes, open your ears, open your heart and shut your mouth.”

It’s a lesson which applies to every facet of life, something which every graduate should remember when they enter the work world.

Today’s work force faces a task unlike any generation before them. They face the challenge not from other human labor, but from technology which now does the job of several people.

It’s a daunting task to keep up with the pace of change. The rapid advancement has also created an urgency with this writer’s generation, which must either jump on to the bandwagon or face being left in the dust.

The aforementioned scenario represents the most important lesson this writer learned since high school: The learning must never stop.

Graduates this year and every year must remember that the day they stop learning will be the day they stop living.

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