Trying to see into the future

Published 11:10 pm Thursday, April 11, 2019

When I saw the honor graduates from King’s Fork and Nansemond River high schools in front of the Suffolk School Board, I saw a little of myself — except I wasn’t an honor graduate, and I wouldn’t have cleaned up as well as they have.

These graduates have a confidence about themselves and their future that I lacked at their age.

I’m confident that some, if not many, of them are nervous about what awaits them in the future.

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I had no clue, which is why it’s comforting to hear there are more programs and guidance for high school students as they navigate their futures. My guidance involved a once-a-year meeting with my guidance counselor to plan my class schedule for the following year.

My middle-of-the-road grades did not inspire anyone to talk to me about my future, and it was only when I was hearing about other people in my graduating class getting acceptance letters that I even thought I might want to apply somewhere. Having missed most of the deadlines for schools, I applied and got accepted to one school, but I had missed the financial aid deadlines by that point, and rather than rush through a decision, I decided to gather my bearings and go to community college first.

I did end up going to a four-year school after that, but again, I had no real plan. When I was younger, I gravitated toward some kind of career in sports media — either radio play-by-play or as a sports reporter. When I was considering schools after community college, I ended up choosing a small school without a journalism program, so I chose elementary education.

I worked toward that for the next two years, only to discover that while I would have loved working with children, I loved writing more. And judging by the amount of time I spent in the newspaper office, rather than my classes, there was no disputing that.

I left school, unfinished and in a lot of debt, though with good experiences participating in Division III cross country for a season, covering sports for the student newspaper and being a student orientation leader.

I managed a couple of freelance jobs, but I fell out of writing for a few years and worked at an amusement park before getting back into writing at a maritime-based newsletter. That led to working at newspapers in Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, and doing more freelance writing. In the middle of all that, I got married, finished my degree online, and, almost three years ago, being a first-time father at age 46.

In other words, I took a meandering path to the point I am now. I had friends in school who were so sure of what they wanted to do and how their life path would go, and it didn’t go as planned for them.

It took me much time to develop the confidence in myself personally and professionally. I married late, became a father even later, got my degree late and my career developed later than many.

Not that anyone is asking me to be a commencement speaker, but that would be the basic message I’d offer. While it’s good to have an idea of what you want to do with your future, allow for some flexibility for that future to change and adapt however you need it. I wouldn’t tell anyone to take the wayward path I took, but it’s OK if your plans change.

I thought growing up I could figure things out myself. I figured out I wasn’t that smart.

But when I finally sought help, a better way and a much happier and smoother personal and professional path revealed itself to me.

Use the help that’s out there. There’s a lot of it, and there are many people who are willing to help.

But I have no regrets, even if I still have a lot of debt.

And as my thoughts drift to my daughter’s future, I smile, and I have hope.

Seeing the group of honor graduates, and seeing the many Suffolk teens I come in contact with, we’re in good hands.