It’s that time of year, when just about every newspaper in the state gives front-page attention to at least one local graduation. They’re always a big deal, especially to those who walk across that ceremonial stage and the families they’re making proud.

Graduations mark a transition in our lives, but sometimes I think it’s over-emphasized. Anyone who thinks a diploma or degree is a ticket to success is sadly mistaken. It’s just a ticket to ride; you still have to get there on your own.

But rather than continuing with a recitation of grad-day platitudes, allow me to offer up some less-than-conventional thoughts instead.

First, let’s dispel the notion that you can be anything you set your mind to becoming, because you can’t. If you’re short, you won’t likely make it to NBA stardom, no matter how hard you try. If you’re color blind, you can’t be a pilot. The fact is, some obstacles just can’t be overcome.

You might as well recognize your limitations straight away. That way you can focus on your potential, your own talents and skills, and what you actually can achieve.

The trick to success in our world is to match your abilities to the demands of the larger world. Even if you’re too short to play in the NBA, if you understand the game there are other opportunities off the court. I’ve known some excellent sports reporters who couldn’t cut it as athletes, but they understood and appreciated the intricacies of sports and carved out their own niche. That’s how success happens.

And since we’re talking about success, let’s attach a standard to it, something my dad and the Boy Scouts taught me: Always leave things better than you found it.

That’s it. Apply that to all your life experiences and you’ll stand tall.

* * *

When I was a kid, I was the consummate daydreamer. I whiled away the hours picturing myself as a rock star, or an outstanding athlete, or a great and wise leader. What I had to learn the hard way was that such dreams get you nowhere without discipline and hard work.

So to the dreamers out there, I say, go ahead and dream big. Just remember that the bigger your dream, the harder you’ll have to work to make it come true.

* * *

Of course, like everything in life, whether it’s following a dream or just getting by, it’s always nice to have company along the way—and if you’re lucky enough to find your soul mate, you’re well on your way to a wonderful life.

But to the young grads out there, may I suggest that you wait a while before you start your own family.

I think too many young people start too early into their childbearing years. It takes time to really grow up (it doesn’t automatically happen at the official age of 18 or 21) and you’d better off being prepared, mentally and emotionally, before taking it on.

At my own college graduation—I was in my 30s by then—I remember only one thing spoken by the university’s president: “The miracle of childbirth,” he said, “is not that adults create children. It’s that children create adults.”

As a sat there at my commencement, with a wife and baby girl sitting behind me in the crowd, I understood the truth behind those words. The day my first daughter was born was the day I set aside my childish ways and became a man. And since then, being a provider, protector, father and daddy has been the greatest single accomplishment of my life.

* * *

And, finally, this closing thought for the parents out there: Let your young grads get out there and screw up!

Most Americans switch career paths at least once in their lifetime. Our kids don’t have to get it right the first time. Let ‘em learn.

I love what my brother told his children as they moved from high school into the larger world. “You’ll make mistakes,” he told them, “and that’s OK. Just don’t make any mistakes that’ll get you killed.”

Amen to that. Be bold, graduates, but be safe, too. The world awaits.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and the Roswell Daily Record. He may be reached at tmcdonald@gazettemediaservices.com or tmcdonald@rdrnews.com.