Editor's Note: Graduates’ tough choices

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Over the last week, Colorado Community Media’s reporters and staff worked to cover a variety of graduations. We saw graduates talk with pride about their accomplishments and look to the future with optimism and hope.

My nephew was one of those graduates, earning some high credits from a small high school in Florence. In high school, he flourished in band, made straight As and got about $7,000 in scholarships.

However, in the months leading up to his final walk across the stage in that clichéd last piece of childhood and entering adulthood, he was not always so optimistic about the future.

The fact is, as he started looking toward adulthood, he started realizing what that really means in to today’s world.

Really, students today are entering the “real world” with a lot of strikes already against them. We have inflation rates soaring — sorry, that means food, rent and life is too costly for that fast-food job to support. Gasoline prices are soaring – that means commuting to and from college classes and work is that much harder.

Now, let’s talk about college. It is frightening to see the cost of getting that secondary education. Colleges and universities are charging unprecedented amounts, making college choices really hard to figure out.

For my nephew, he was offered an opportunity at a Montana school, with some financial assistance. However, he started realizing that maintaining the GPA required for the scholarship, working and living out-of-state might be too tough.

Instead, he started asking if he is a failure for getting general ed classes out of the way by going to a community college. I was saddened to think that he really thought looking at a community college meant failure.

I had a straight talk with him, telling him my initial degree came from a community college in Arizona. I used grants and scholarships to pay for it, and to this day, I think the education I got in those years is still way better than the expensive one at a university where I had to get student loans to pay for a bachelor’s degree.

I still do not understand how community colleges and trade schools got such a bad rap. I had a math teacher who truly taught me something I hated doing. I had journalism teachers who got me ready to start a career. I loved working at the community college newspaper.

I wanted my nephew to understand that he was not a failure for taking the option he thought best for him. With his scholarship money, in the first years of education, he will get the requirements out of the way and will not be in a major amount of debt doing so.

And, frankly, our universities are not always the best option for a small-town student venturing out of their comfort zones for the first time. Starting small and then going to a university might mean he overcomes the pressures and succeeds.

I hope all of this year’s graduates do what’s best for them and not their parents, and not what society says they should.

Thelma Grimes is the south metro editor for Colorado Community Media

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