A few words of advice for the graduates

By AMANDA SEXTON FERGUSON,

This year marks 25 years since I graduated from Immaculate Conception High School for Girls in Memphis, Tenn.  I was one of 72 graduating seniors that walked down the center isle of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in our white cap and gowns and received our diplomas. 

From that day on, there were no more saddle oxfords and knee socks, overstuffed three-ring binders, plaid skirts and class rings.  There were no more fish sticks on Friday, school dances, and summer reading requirements.

I can count on one hand how many of my classmates I have seen since that day in May 1993.  I keep up with many on social media.  I get to see photos of their children and their lives as adults.  I shared in the grief with these girls at the passing of two of our classmates and many loved ones throughout the years.

I didn’t realize that when I drove away from campus that day that my life was going to change completely.  I was moving to a new city – albeit only an hour away from my childhood home – and I would make new friends and learn new things and forge a new path.

In my overly-ideal mind,  I was going to make my mark, dream big, do the unthinkable, and maybe even change the world. If I only knew then, right?  But I have no regrets.  I’ve learned many, many, many lessons over the years – some painful, but I have no regrets.

Every year, I share with the local graduates a few of those lessons, so maybe someone won’t have to learn them the hard way.

• Work hard.  Life isn’t easy, and if you think opportunity is just going to fall into your lap, well, you need to come on back down to earth. 

My parents taught me and my sisters to work.  We were expected to do chores inside and outside of our home.  Yes, some of this work was manual labor.  And let’s not talk about all the Saturday morning flower bed weedings and mowing extravaganzas.

If you want something, anything is achievable if you are willing to put in the work.

• Choose your friends wisely.  Take my advice here.  There are people in the world who will bring out the very best in you, and there are people who will bring out the worst.  Learn the difference.

Now that I am an adult, I look back at the many people who have come in and out of my life, and from each one, I learned something or took away a valuable lesson.  My dearest friend in the world has been by my side for the past 30-plus years, and I know life would be pretty crummy without her.  I am always open to new friendships, and over the years, I have found more of those kindred spirits.  You will know them when you meet them.  They bring out your best qualities, and you do the same for them.

• Have fun, but not too much fun. I loved college – every minute of it.  I got a top-notch education. I made some wonderful life-long friends and have a treasure trove of memories that I will cherish forever.  However, college is meant to get an education, and I wish I would have taken advantage of every educational opportunity offered – special programs, guest lectures, brown bag luncheons, cultural events.  I feel like I was given a glass full of knowledge, and I only took a few sips.  Drink in every drop of education you can. 

• Say yes!  The one thing I did right in my young adult years was to take advantage of nearly every opportunity that came my way.   Regret is a bitter pill for never taking the chance.  Sometimes, you have to put the fear aside and take a leap of faith. 

Now, I am a hand-wringing worrier – just like the rest of the Sexton family.   I proceed through life with caution – always aware of the too-good-to-be trues, false promises, get-rich-quick schemes.  I am a take-no-chances kind of girl with a hearty dose of old-fashioned responsibility.

If I hadn’t taken a leap of faith, I would not have moved to the Crossroads and taken the position of editor and publisher of The Winona Times and The Conservative. 

And you know what, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

• Say I love you.  My husband, Keith, and I always say goodbye with an “I love you,” regardless if we will see each other in 10 minutes or two weeks. 

We aren’t promised tomorrow – none of us are.  You never know if it will be your last goodbye.  So say I love you, and say it often.

So graduates, as you take those steps into the real world, anything is possible through hard work, a strong support system, a great education, and by embracing every opportunity life sends you.

One more thing…call your parents and check in regularly.  I never understood the underlying worry a parent endures until I had my own child.  It doesn’t matter if you are five, 25, or 55 with your own children and grandchildren, your parents will worry about you for the rest of their lives.  Give them a little peace of mind.  Call home.

Congratulations, graduates.  I pray that all your dreams come true.

 

Amanda Sexton Ferguson is editor and publisher of The Winona Times and The Conservative newspapers.

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