Opinion: A positive undertaking: Scholarship program investing in our futureOne of the things I truly enjoy about the first few weeks of school after Christmas break — and no, I am not referring to snow, which I detest more and more as my childhood memories disappear into that fog that comes to all people “of a certain age” — is the mail at school. Typically, I am not a big fan of the mail as it typically comes with little I would ever want to receive. The typical batch includes a blizzard of advertisements, news of some innovative and even more onerous federal regulation, and, of course, some state and federal report which must be filed within the next 30 days and which I truly loathe especially if I can’t foist it off on someone else in the district which, I have to admit, is usually how it works.
By: Joe Graves, Mitchell superintendent
One of the things I truly enjoy about the first few weeks of school after Christmas break — and no, I am not referring to snow, which I detest more and more as my childhood memories disappear into that fog that comes to all people “of a certain age” — is the mail at school. Typically, I am not a big fan of the mail as it typically comes with little I would ever want to receive. The typical batch includes a blizzard of advertisements, news of some innovative and even more onerous federal regulation, and, of course, some state and federal report which must be filed within the next 30 days and which I truly loathe especially if I can’t foist it off on someone else in the district which, I have to admit, is usually how it works.
It’s a bit like going to the dentist or the doctor after your reach middle age. The best you can reasonably expect is no bad news. I consider it an achievement, albeit a minor one, when the pile is small or completely made up of advertisements, to be dealt with in one smooth motion from mailbox to recycling bag.
But not this time of year. This is the time when the previous year’s Mitchell Community Scholarship winners — 138 of them last year — received their first semester college grades and forward those to me so that I can approve the drafting of their scholarship checks. This is fun for any number of reasons. Who doesn’t like to be a part of a really generous, positive undertaking? It’s like being Warren Buffett’s philanthropy accountant, if on a much smaller scale.
But what gives me far more satisfaction from this January mail is hearing back, even if a bit formally (how warm and touching can one be in a completed form and a grades report?), from our recent graduates. People go into education because they really like people, especially young people. They want to be around them. They want to help them. They want to make the future a better place. And so your typical first grade teacher does a lot more than teach phonics, addition and subtraction. They get to know each 6-year-old in their classroom. They listen to stories about their parents and their brothers and sister and their dog and cat and goldfish and what they got for Christmas and why they have a band-aid on their elbow and why they’re happy today but sad tomorrow. Then one day, the last day of school for the year, they give them a hug and send them on to second grade. Oh, they might see them again in the hall on occasion or even send a congratulatory letter on some achievement later in life but these are both fleeting and rare. The teacher does their very best by each of their students and then has to be satisfied with sending them off to the rest of their lives without knowing much of what happens afterwards. While it overstates the case, it reminds me of the pioneer experience in this country in which the parents would watch their grown offspring drive off in a covered wagon westward and typically never see them again. While it understates the case, it’s a bit like saving and investing money over your entire lifetime and leaving the “heirs” list blank in your will.
The disconnect with the students we invest in is at its most sudden and jarring at the point they graduate from high school. For the graduate, high school becomes passé and it is a rare one that stops back to say hello. Even hearing from them again is unlikely, given the fact that they have suddenly hit what for many is the busiest, most exciting, most enlightening time of their life. These people struggle to find the time to write a three line thank you to Grandma for her Christmas gift. What are the odds they are going to write an unbidden news epistle to their former English teacher, football coach or principal?
You may be asking, at this point, why I am the person fortunate enough to receive these scholarship check requests. They have to submit them so the Mitchell Community Scholarship Board can ensure that they have met the requirements of the scholarship —12 credits of postsecondary study with passing grades. I handle the approvals because, among my very few practical skills in life, is the ability to figure out all sorts of different transcripts. And we receive all kinds. Most come from colleges and universities on the semester system. These are the norm. These are easy. Others are more difficult. How do you translate trimester credits into a semester equivalency? What about schools — remember that the MCSF offers scholarships for all sorts of postsecondary study — that don’t break their instruction into semester or trimester blocks or award credits accordingly? We have students who attend cosmetology school who typically earn hours of service. We have students who attend truck driving schools which typically conclude more quickly than we can even get the scholarship out to them. A few years back we had a student attend farrier school, forcing me to pry open my dictionary where I discovered this school teaches students the blacksmithing skills necessary to shoe horses. The courses of post high school study of our students are diverse, geographically widespread and endlessly fascinating. They provide just the smallest hints of the excitement, joy and purpose our graduates are experiencing. Receiving those scholarship request forms is one more link to the students we send off, one more echo of the investment we’ve made.
The more of these requests I approve, the more I am convinced that it is not just the educators who are investing in the future. It is also the people on the Board of the Mitchell Community Scholarship Fund, the people who work so hard, who make the asks, who wade into the regulation and minutiae to ensure that every applying member of one more graduating class — both Mitchell High School and Mitchell Christian — will receive a scholarship to the school of their choice this year. And, finally and most importantly, it is the people who generously give to the MCSF each year, especially during the radiothon — this year, as in every year, at the end of February — who invest in our community’s young people, who invest in a future of which we will only see the first translucent reflections.