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GRAVES: Fill the glass to the brim

The pessimist, they say, sees the glass as half-empty. The optimist, half-full.

I respectfully disagree. It might be correct to say that the realist views the glass as half-full. But the optimist, the true optimist, sees the glass as completely empty, arid, scorched, bone-dry. For a full glass can accept no more. A half-full glass can, at best, accept that much again. But an empty glass can accept its entire volume in liquid. An empty glass is a glass with nothing but potential. And what can be better than pure potential?

Which is precisely how I feel about a new school year.

Sometimes when I greet people early on a Monday morning, I will receive a less than enthusiastic response. They are Garfield the Cat people, haters of all things Monday. The weekend is behind them and a full, long work week dead ahead, emphasis on the "dead." Me, I prefer Mondays. Mondays are the start of a full week of nothing but potential. Five long days ahead, all with the possibility of new gains to make, new challenges to tackle, new treasures to uncover.

And when people are ever so chipper on a Friday — bellowing out choruses of "TGIF" or "feeling Friday fine" — I can certainly look forward to the promise of the two days ahead but I'm also a bit down over the loss of another work week, another week of life, another example of having someone successfully wish a bit more of their life away. Living for the weekend is not really living at all. It is accepting and perverting the old concept of Limbo, of embracing the nothingness just long enough to find a tiny foothold on the beach of a weekend.

Even more disconcerting are those adults I meet occasionally who greet school-aged children in church or at the store with something along the lines of, "Well, summer's about over. Back to the salt mines." This they offer with a wistful look at best, a look of despair more typically. Do they want children to dislike school, to dread it as if it will steal their precious youth, bring naught but tedium to their days? Such comments are not only unhelpful; they are downright destructive. School is the place you buy the ticket for the American dream. It is also the place where intellectual fires are lit, where lifelong interests and passions are found and developed. I have personally watched adults persuade young people to vocalize unhappiness with attending school when I know full well the students were excited about it. But they felt they had to agree, to give tacit approval to their conversational partner's cynicism if only to avoid looking, well, a bit Poindexter-ish. The interesting thing about getting a young person to assent to such a dim outlook is that it creates cognitive dissonance, an internal disagreement between what they've said and what they believe. And if cognitive dissonance theory teaches anything, it is the unfortunate truth that belief is sometimes easier to change than word or action.

How much better would we serve the young people around us if, instead of sharing with them our own Debbie-downer outlook, we offered words of encouragement, words of enthusiasm, words, even, of excitement?

And in doing so, we wouldn't be dissembling. Instead, we'd be reaching out to them and helping them understand the wonders that an education can provide, the career and social skills that can be learned in school, the professional curiosities that can grow into vocations from the seeds that are planted there, the opening of the treasure chest of Western Civilization that can be accomplished in school even as our increasingly dark culture seeks desperately to pitch such into the dustbin and deliver us into a truly dark, though technologically sophisticated, age. Dystopia, anyone?

The school year, barely begun, that emerges before us might be the year when we teach a student who will outdo even some of our most prominent alumni — George McGovern, Mike Miller, and so many more — as a result of the opportunities we provided. It might be the year that ACT scores rise even higher above the state average, that high school students get an even longer head start on postsecondary school through dual credit and virtual school and Advanced Placement coursework, that MHS sets a new record for state titles won in a single academic year, that our increasingly sophisticated teachers and technology produce more students who are proficient and escalates even higher the levels of competence those already proficient achieve, that our advancing personalization of academic offerings causes even more students to seize their educational opportunities like a drowning man a thrown rope or an epicure a gastronomically perfected buffet.

The glass is empty. This year, let's fill it to the brim.