They are Brave Hearts, They are Young and they are full of hope

by Will Baker


I bumped into a former student, as he was hard at work at the local hardware store. He is now taller than I am, but he still has a head of bright red hair. I knew that he had just graduated from high school, so I offered him my congratulations and hopes for a bright future. He thanked me with a firm handshake and a clear gaze. He is a fine young man, and I feel proud to have played a small part in his development.

Our television company provides a "local access" channel, and each year they tape and replay the graduation ceremonies held at the area high schools. I can recall watching this fellow’s graduation ceremony a couple of weeks ago. It was late at night. I had just finished watching a news cast, and I was channel surfing before going to bed. I happened upon the replay of the graduation, and I was glad that I did. I sat there for the next hour, sipping wine as late night turned into early morning, and watched these kids face their futures.

There were several familiar faces -I had worked with many of the graduates over the years, and it was a great experience to listen to them speak, those that did, and watch some of them receive an award or two. I am proud to say that, with some exceptions, our community takes good care of its children. In much the same way that I have observed other communities, for instance, protecting and growing their tax-bases, our community recognizes these children as assets. But these kids are from a small village in a small state. While some with local prospects will stay, the economic necessities of life will compel many of them to make their way beyond the nurturing influence of life in Addison County, Vermont. In many cases our kids will leave for a time, either in pursuit of higher education or wanderlust, but then return to try and make a living. I have heard many kids, now grown into adulthood, articulate what to them seems very ironic: the very thing that makes them wish to leave, our nurturing attitude towards our children, which to a child I am sure can sometimes seem stifling, makes them return to raise their own children.

And for those that do go, it is a lot of fun when they return home to visit. One young fellow comes to mind that has been studying music in Boston for the last two years. He was also a former student, who had attained local celebrity status due to his flute playing ability. His manner has become "polished" somewhat due to his time spent in Boston, yet as the saying goes, "you can take the kid out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the kid." I know that the last two years must have been a shock of sorts for him. Although his musical ability has been locally recognized, I am sure that the school he is currently attending has exposed him to many other talented young people. I am also sure that this experience has modified his perspective on things.

But some kids will stay, and I suspect that the red head with the firm handshake might be one of these folks. I expect that, if he goes to college, it will be here in Vermont. It also wouldn’t surprise me a bit where he to work in that hardware store until he retires. That kind of thing happens here often, a young person takes a job just out of school, and then will work it for the rest of her or his life. And where that to happen I wouldn’t be disappointed in him, thinking that he failed to live up to his potential. For the time being, Addison County Vermont is a place offering this kind of an option. There are local jobs for kids out of school. There are supportive parents, and communities able to provide the extended support necessary for a young person to succeed.

It has been my experience that in other places, many high school graduates are cast adrift, and become quickly marginalized. Not only am I referring to those that end up in the service industry with "McJobs," but also to those that go on to college with an incomplete notion of what success is, passed on to them by harried adults who are themselves having difficulty making sense out of their own realities. I am not attempting to paint this place with idyllic brush strokes, but to merely convey that for the time being, the redhead with the firm handshake has an option that sadly, I believe, has become a thing of the past in most other places.

Yes, times change, and so do people. However it seems to me that there are still some constants in the shifting sand that comprises our existence. Our young people are still the future. And I would argue that the time spent with, and the attention paid to these kids while they are growing up, is an opportunity for wise investment. And there are still some places where folks relate and positively interact with other folks on a daily basis. Although, as with the number of family farms, these places are on the decline, they still exist. And there is some comfort in this. For even if you, gentle reader, are living a life of "quiet desperation," there are still some places where one might find peace. And in these places the recent graduates go forth to face their futures. They are brave hearts, they are young, and they are full of hope.


(Essay Collection)