kevin-mcdonald_web.jpgPretty soon, hundreds of thousands of high school seniors statewide will shake the hands of school administrators and other stage dignitaries as they participate in the pomp and circumstance of completing 13 years of school. For some, graduation was never in doubt. For others, walking across the stage in full regalia in front of family and friends would be nothing short of a miracle.

Regardless of the stories — and each student has one — the graduating class of 2012 has every reason to enjoy this watershed moment.  I would be remiss if I did not congratulate them. But the celebration should not last too long. The real world awaits, whether it’s college, the military or the workforce, and the best piece of advice I can give to any graduate in this ever-changing society is simply this: Really live, continue to grow and give.

Growing in this sense refers to learning, so one should never stop learning. Giving is about serving others. And one should never cease from that as well because it is always more blessed to give than to receive.

As a former journalist who has been teaching English in the Palm Beach County School District since 2001, I am forever reading, researching, writing and engaging in other intellectual endeavors in order to do my job well. Even though I attend workshops during the school year and summer break and collaborate with my colleagues when time permits, there’s so much more to learn. There’s always room for improvement. The more I grow, the better I am able to not only serve my students but also to aid parents, my fellow colleagues and administrators.

The mindset of wanting to go to the next level, regardless of past accomplishments and even failures, is what really separates the all-stars in life from the also-rans. An all-star is a winner and an also-ran is a whiner. The former finds a way to get the job done while the latter makes excuses. An all-star consistently gives maximum effort in all tasks; the also-ran does just enough to get by. Although an all-star possesses tremendous talent, he or she knows that talent is never enough to be successful; it also takes a healthy dose of diligence, discipline and aplomb. 

It has never been easy but anything worthwhile seldom is. Just ask the players who were selected for the NBA All-Star game or the NFL’s Pro Bowl.  The same type of focus and determination it took for them to become paragons in their sport is what each member of the class of 2012 will need to become the positive pillars our nation so desperately needs.

The federal government is in gridlock. Our food is adulterated. The economy is still sputtering and too many people are overly medicated. When you also factor in the breakdown of the family and a public education system in need of an overhaul, there is much work to do.

The mission is possible for the class of 2012. We need smart and ethical people to put this nation back on the path of prosperity. So, as the class celebrates commencement with friends and family, I hope that each one accepts the personal challenge of becoming an all-star, a person intent on growing and giving. Team America is waiting.

Kevin McDonald is a Tampa native who has been teaching English in the Palm Beach County School District since 2001.

Photo: Kevin Mcdonald