Two weeks have now passed since Rush County Schools released new graduates from a state required academic curriculum. With that workload now complete, the former students must decide what to do with the rest of their lives. Regardless of their plans to engage in higher education or directly enter the workforce or military, the most meaningful aspect of their new freedoms will be to discover where and how they fit into society.
Depending on perceptions of life, it will be the individuality and uniqueness of each of these new graduates that will guide them to one direction or another. Some may feel perfectly comfortable remaining in this known environment of Rush County while others may feel the atmosphere is too suffocating, restrictive, and narrowly controlled.
I always find it interesting to discuss life choices and plans with the younger generation. Whereas many adults think individuals in their late teens or early twenties don't understand many aspects of living in an adult society, I feel there are areas where their views are the most correct of all. Meaning, they often understand quite well the rules of their community where stereotyped gender roles are scripted and where acceptance of unique individuality is either positive or negative.
When we think of the term "recent graduate", the mind may merely provide an image of a young male or female with no other connections to the individuality of each. As much as we may believe we are alike because we grow up in the same area, individual differences are quite varied. Male and female qualities differ among us, as do the ways we identify with being of one gender or another. Likewise, our race, our nationality, and our ethnic upbringing can appear to make us vastly different from others--the norm--but, in reality, these qualities just further identify our uniqueness as individuals.
The things I mentioned above combine with many more personal characteristics to help us determine where we will best fit in. These characteristics help our new graduates decide how to navigate the world that is now open to them. Some will stay here in Rush County and some will journey far away.
I will end with a short sampling of ideas expressed to me on why local young adults choose one direction or another. The answers may provide additional insight to the common local discussion on why so many kids never return to live after going away to college. To note is that whether the ideas are true or not, this is the way many young people perceive our small community to be.
Ranging in age from eighteen to twenty-seven, my sampling on the thoughts of the younger generation identifies the following reasons for staying in or returning to Rush County after college. At the top is the desire to be close to family and to feel good about the closeness of the community, meaning that they like the fact that people know one another so well here. Many of these individuals also think the environment is a very safe place to raise a family and to school them. These young adults strongly identify with the county and its small town charm.
From the same age group, common reasons provided for permanently leaving the county are the lack of shopping choices and cultural resources. Perhaps most telling though are thoughts on the lack of personal opportunity. While it is obvious that there are not many job opportunities available here, some young people choose not to live or commute from here because, in one individual's words, "Rush County is a small pond with too many big fish." Translating the phrase is that many young people see the county as a place where only a select few make the rules and deny newer ways of thinking. They see this to be a power issue where those with the most control are involved in almost every facet of community rulings and that these "big fish" will use their influence and connections to keep people of opposing views out of the decision-making processes. Interestingly, this issue applies to some females who feel as though their gender, or rather the outdated stereotype of their gender, prevents them from growth as well. These young people do not identify with the county and its lack of opportunity and other noted resources.
There you have it. Regardless of the accuracy of these ideas or if the thoughts merely highlight notions that many people have about their own communities, this is how our younger generation perceives things to be in our community. What the future holds for our recent graduates is yet to be seen. How they choose to explore with their new freedoms will be determined by the unique individual characteristics and perceptions that guide each of them.
I wish luck to all the younger generation as they find their way in this big world. They will encounter paths of opportunity to take them on far away journeys and as well, find others that may bring them back home to stay.