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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 7, 2005

Stumbling into each day unknown

By Matt Cook

"I don't know a soul who's not been battered/ I don't have a friend who feels at ease/ I don't know a dream that's not been shattered/ or driven to its knees."

-Paul Simon, "American Tune"

I must be doing something wrong.

As a member of my high school and college bands and now a reporter, I have attended graduations every summer for the past 11 years, often more than one per year. Two of them, in 1998 and 2002, were my own. The problem is that, each year, the speaker gives advice that I’ve followed to a T. At least I’ve tried.

I’ve yet to see the results.

I’ve worked hard. I’ve followed my dreams. I’ve remembered my roots. I’ve shot for the moon. I’ve shot for the stars. And, I’ve believed in myself.

I’ve believed the hell out of myself.

I was promised I would change the world. I was promised that, if I did all those things, I would make a difference. But, here I am, seven years out of high school and three out of college, and I haven’t changed anything but apartments and girlfriends. As for making a difference, the world seems like it would do all right without me.

While 2005’s graduates head out into the world to make it a better place, I’m sprawled out in my stifling sixth-floor studio apartment, sweating, and awake after midnight, clutching a can of Raid intended for any of those mysterious many-legged crawlers that have decided to infest the place. Tomorrow morning, I will skip breakfast because it’s too hot to eat and drive 20 miles to work in a dented car, and I will make very little money writing newspaper stories about towns no one has heard of.

Let’s tell the class of 2005 where it’s really headed.

The most recent edition of my college’s alumni newsletter notes a charge given by the graduation speaker at this year’s ceremony.

Citing Tom Brokaw’s World War II book, The Greatest Generation, the speaker told the class, "What would it take to make your generation, all 80-million-plus of you great"...Could your generation be the generation that some day others will look at and say, without hesitation, ‘That was a great generation,’ not because you made a lot of money, not because you produced more things, but because of the way you lived""

If graduation ceremonies are the last time to teach students, we should, at least, in the spirit of education, tell them the truth.

The truth is, this generation will be the same as every generation before it and every generation after it. Some members will disappear into history as nothing more than names in a phonebook. Some will rise, for a short moment, and then fall or fade. Some will die young.

And a few, through sheer luck, will actually do something worth remembering. It will not be because they tried harder, believed more, or dreamed bigger. It will be for the same unknowable reasons that anything happens.

At Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s graduation ceremony last weekend, a speaker brought up a graduation classic. "This is not an end," she said, "but only a new beginning."

The truth is, the graduation ceremony is an end. It’s the day after that is a beginning. On that day, the class of 2005 will wake up and stand before the unknown.

This is why we have graduation ceremonies: to prepare, if we can, graduates, and everyone else, for what comes the next morning, and to acknowledge that the greatest achievement of all is just rolling out of bed and stumbling into the darkness, unsure.

The only thing on which we can all agree is nobody knows what’s going to happen. The future is a terrifying place. Entering it may be a crazy move, but most of us make it, and, in our weird and unbelievable logic, it’s the most admirable thing we can ever do because it’s the only thing we can do.

Graduates, dream if you want to and believe if you want to, but if you do one thing, get up tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and just keep going. I, for one, in all my insignificance, will be proud.

One is silver and the other gold

By Maggie Gordon

Not long ago, I was in their shoes — mine killed my feet by the way. In fact, it was only a year ago that I graduated from Berne-Knox-Westerlo with the class of 2004.

I remember the weeks of anticipation leading up to the ceremony, and the tears, though I told myself I wasn’t going to cry. I remember my mother’s proud face when we met in the atrium at The Egg after the ceremony, and posing for pictures with my best friend, Leanne — who had actually discarded her painful shoes and crossed the stage barefoot.

The day was bittersweet. I knew I was moving on to a new life, one which was bringing me to a college I had dreamed of for years, a college four times larger than my town.

But I had to say good-bye to many people. I said good-bye to my cheerleading coach, who had been like a mother to me when my own mother was battling an aggressive form of cancer. I said good-bye to my newspaper advisor, who had taught me so much and promised me bigger and better. I said goodbye to the quiet, safe hallways of B-K-W which had protected me, and I said good-bye to the part of myself that had been sheltered.

I was moving on. I was growing up.

It was two months and one day later that my mother, father, sister, and I took two over-loaded cars to Syracuse University, a place where, for the first time, everybody wouldn’t know my name.

I’ll admit it: I was a little scared that I wouldn’t fit in when I got to school. I was afraid that I would be different from everyone else. I was sure that, upon meeting me, everyone would know I was a country bumpkin, and they would think I didn’t belong.

Wide horizons

In one year, I have made some valuable friendships. I have two friends in particular, one from Silver Spring, Md., outside of Washington, D.C. and another from Long Island, both of whom I met through the Honors Program.

These new friendships have helped me to learn so much. We have so many differences — religion, background, and economic status — something I never really encountered while growing up in the Hilltowns, yet one of the most important things I have ever experienced.

We also have a lot in common. We are all enrolled in Newhouse, the communications school at Syracuse University. We were all in the same Communications and Society class, and we are all loyal Syracuse basketball and football fans, who have, on occasion, showed up to games with blue and orange faces.

While my new friends could never replace my best friend — who has been by my side since we gave each other bloody noses in the third grade and walked to the nurse’s office hand in hand — they have brought a lot to my life. It reminds me of a song I learned in Girl Scouts: "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, and the other gold."

I don’t know which one is silver, and which one is gold — that’s something I have been contemplating since I first learned the song about 15 years ago. I do know that both are precious.

Back to my tiny town

I’m back in Knox again, working at the Knox Country Store for my fourth summer; I’m back to a world where everybody knows my name. I’m interning at The Enterprise, my first real journalism gig, and I’m back to a world where I can see the stars at night.

When I first returned for the summer, I was a little scared of what it was going to be like. I was afraid that I might have outgrown the tiny town which had molded me into the person that I am today. Would my puppy, Milo McBeagle, even care that I was home" Had I changed"

Well, of course I had changed. After all, I save quarters for laundry now, I think re-heated pizza is a food group, and I don’t spend every cent of my money on shoes any more.

My friends have changed, too. They all came back with a life lesson or two, and I can tell that, like me, they’re a little more worldly than we all were one year ago.

Sometimes I can’t believe that it has been a whole year. Other times I can’t believe it has only been a year.

I was scared on that day one year ago, that what I was leaving behind would be gone forever — that I would never be the same, I would never fit into the place I left behind.

Now I see that I was worrying about nothing. Sure, I’m different, and my friends are different, and my parents’ hair is a little grayer now, but I still fit in, and I still belong here.

Home is where the heart is, so I guess this year what I learned is that I have two homes: Syracuse, and Knox.

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