Open letter to high school graduates — Part 4

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David Epps

The summer is here, you have graduated, and you don’t want to go to college, trade/technical school, or enlist in the military. What you really want to do is go directly to work.

This is, indeed, an option. A few things up front: Almost any job you take will start out at minimum wage or slightly above. If you manage to land a full-time job, that’s $304.50 a week (before taxes) at $7.25 an hour for a 40-hour week. That’s $15,834.00 a year.

You may say, “That’s impossible to live on!” Well, probably yes. But that’s what you get paid at an entry level with no skills and no experience. But, take heart. There are some good possibilities.

If you are willing to work, show up on time, and be dedicated for the entire shift consistently, day after day, employers are looking for people like you.

Louis Graham, former Chief of Police of the Fulton County Police Department, told a graduating class of rookie officers that, if they did these three things, they would make the rank of major (a high rank in the law enforcement world) by the time they retired. The reason, he said, is that so few people have a good work ethic that “you will stand out and be recognized.”

You also have to select the right job. Now, it’s better to work at a job that is distasteful rather than not work at all. At least you are building a resume and a work ethic. And it is easier to get a job if you have a job. It makes you appear less desperate. Eventually, you will have to try to find a job that has a future. You don’t want to be working part-time and living in your mom’s basement when you are 35. Well, maybe you do, but your mom may have other ideas.

When I was in college, I worked for a fast food restaurant as a cook. I took the extra hours when they were offered and I worked hard. The manager came to me one day and asked if I’d like to go full-time and be sent to manager’s school.

I was making $1.85 an hour. If I had been working 40 hours, which I was not, that would have been $3,744 a year. If I graduated from manager’s school, I would start off as an assistant manager in a store with a salary of $16,000. It would take a bachelor’s degree in social work and a couple of years experience working for a state agency before I earned $12,000. By the way, $16,000 in 1971 coverts to $99,202.70 in today’s dollars. And that was for a beginning assistant manager. I have no regrets that I took another path.

I knew one high school classmate who went to work after graduation bagging groceries, part-time, in a supermarket, for minimum wage. Ten years later he was a store manager earning more money a year than some of our classmates who completed college and law school.

In our hometown, Eastman Chemical Products was the big factory employing 15,000 people. Quite a few went to work for Eastman after graduation. Over time, the productive workers received pay increases, promotions, and some became foremen or supervisors. Those folks bought homes, raised families, took vacations, and most of the ones I knew who went there after high school are now retired.

Now, it’s not easy, especially during the first few years. In 2015, people with a college degree earned $48,500 a year while those with a high school diploma earned $23,900 annually. A high school dropout, on the other hand, only made about $19,000 a year. But these are averages. Some made a lot more, others made a lot less.

I recently spoke with a man young enough to be my son. He had no education beyond high school. What he had, however, was ambition and a willingness to work hard and wisely use his money. He started a lawn care business. He was successful and it grew. Then he sold the business.

So he started another business and bought a tow truck. Eventually he owned nine tow trucks and sold that business, too. So, he started another lawn care business which he still operates. He hopes to be able to retire by the time he is 50.

In America, such things are possible — for those who are willing to work, save, and sacrifice.

A few years ago I met a man who owned a salvage company. Raised in Tennessee, he and his new wife moved to Georgia to both work in a cookie factory. After about 20 years of employment, the business closed and both were out of work. He assessed his options and assets. They could move back home into the home of one of their parents or they could try something new.

He said that all he had was “a pickup truck and a strong back.” He began picking up others people’s junk and hauling it off to make a few bucks. To make a long story short, by the time I met him, he had a full blown salvage company and was making more money than the both of them made at the cookie company.

Several years ago, there was a car wash on Old National Highway just south of Atlanta. Probably all of the workers were minimum wage earners. Most moved slowly as though they were conserving their energy for the rest of the long day. Except for one Filipino young woman. She literally ran from car to car doing her work. She didn’t stop to talk and gossip with fellow workers. She didn’t take frequent breaks. I went there many times and she was always consistent. She threw herself into what, by any account, was a low-paying, dead-end job.

One day I was watching her and, standing next to me, was a man in a rather nice suit watching his expensive car being washed. He said, “See that girl?” I acknowledged that I did. “That’s the workingest girl I have ever seen.” After a minute, he said, “I can train people to do a job. I can’t train people to work like THAT!”

He said, “I have been here several times and she works that hard every time. Today, I’m going to offer her a job worthy of her energy. That’s the kind of people I want to work for me.” The next time I stopped in to get my car washed, she was gone. Good for her.

Life beyond high school is not easy whatever career path one takes. Here, in this new environment, no trophies are given just for showing up. Gold stars and complements are not handed out like candy on Halloween.

It’s a man’s word and a woman’s world and people are expected to make the transition quickly. Some never do. Some will go into old age lamenting that life wasn’t fair and that they never got a chance. Upon closer examination, one can often find that the choices they made and the effort they put out (or not) had much to do with their outcome.

It’s never too late to start. There’s a man in our area who spent time in prison. Life can be especially cruel to people with a criminal record even after they have paid their dues to society. His life turned around and eventually he started a ministry to help people addicted to drugs and alcohol. Today that ministry is flourishing and has helped hundreds of people begin life again.

It may be that, like my dad, you just can’t find what you want to do or be in your late teens and 20s. My father was in his 30s when he became an electrician’s helper. He entered an apprenticeship and became an electrician.

I’ve known many people who went to college in their 30s, 40s, and even later. One man I know completed his doctorate in his 70s! Wherever you are, you can start fresh. It may not be easy but, then, nothing worthwhile usually is.

Whatever you choose — college, trade/technical school, the military, or the work force — the future, your future, is in your hands. Time will pass more quickly that you think it will. Choose wisely, make plans, prove yourself a worthy asset, work hard and work smart. Welcome to the adult world. I wish you much success!

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee. He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]