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It is customary to send graduating high school seniors off with a commencement address, and for good reason. A few words of wisdom on the way out the door; a pep talk to celebrate Diploma Day – these are apt and advisable practices.

But commencement — to commence — can also mean the beginning of something. So what about a few words of wisdom on the way in the door? What about a pep talk to celebrate a big step on the way to that diploma — the start of a new school year?

With school doors opening wide and classes again in session, not just incoming high school seniors, but students at every level should take a moment to celebrate.

You heard right, students: Celebrate!

It might not feel like it when you get that first big homework assignment or find out how many quizzes are on the fall schedule, but the opportunity to achieve a public education is a gift. It’s also a prime example of community support.

If you’re a student, it is likely almost every adult you know is helping pay for your education, either directly through property taxes, or trough rents that help cover those taxes.

That’s a huge community investment. But guess what, students? You don’t owe it to those investors to get a good education. You owe it to yourself. You stand to be the biggest beneficiary.

So as summer melts into fall, and class time again takes center stage, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Your education is largely what you make of it. It doesn’t matter what type of school you attend: private, public, parochial, charter; high-performing, understaffed, state-of-the-art technology, outdated infrastructure. You’ve got to make the best of the opportunity. Pay attention. Study seriously. Read deeply. Hand in all assignments. This is your ticket: Punch it!

Fight through the challenges. We know, not every student has the familial support to arrive in class well fed, well clothed, and well equipped to learn. That’s shameful, and we salute the individuals, organizations and educators themselves that work so hard to close these gaps. But without an education, young learners, those challenges are not likely to recede. Study like it’s your only way out of challenging circumstances, because it may well be.

Ignore the distractions. Inside school and out, disturbances and diversions will threaten to derail your studies. Don’t let them. Don’t let non-serious students deflate your enthusiasm. They’re standing in place while you’re moving ahead. Don’t let online time-wasters sap your hours or energy. They will always be there; the opportunity to attain an education will not.

Explore your interests. Don’t limit your studies to what’s assigned. If you find yourself drawn to, say, a certain era of history, ask your teacher for suggestions on additional reading or online resources. At the very least, you’ll be better informed about an area of study. But at most, you may be taking the first steps down your own career path.

Don’t take being serious about your studies too seriously. Yes, a sound education is of the utmost importance. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun attaining it. Don’t forget extra-curricular courses and sports. Don’t minimize the importance of family and friends. Don’t lose who you are. The idea is to make who you are even better. A strong education will do that.

Don’t wish it away. We know, we know. Nothing is longer than a Friday afternoon chemistry lab. We know something else: Someday you will look back and miss it. OK, maybe not the lab, per se, but this time in your life, when your job is to learn new things, and opportunities await your decisions, and the future stretches in every direction. Take a moment to appreciate. Then take advantage!

Few are the successful people in York, the U.S., or anywhere in the world who did not launch from the foundation of a solid education. Many are the adults who would trade places with today’s school students — chem labs and all — in a blink for a chance to position themselves for a better life.

So yes, Class of 2018, and ’19, and all the classes to come: Celebrate. You’re given a precious opportunity. You’re to be envied. You’ve got the chance to furnish yourself with the tools to build any future you can imagine.

Hone those tools. Build that future. Do us proud. Do yourself proud.

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