By Ken Stern 

Graduation hopes: theirs, ours


"Imagination is more important than knowledge." -Albert Einstein

Thursday La Conner High School seniors graduate, 47 of them. Local merchants and institutions recognize them by sponsoring the seniors’ photographs on today's back page.

Take a look at these young, confident, about-to-be adults heading into their futures. That future is our future, to be shared with them but so far shaped by us, the elders reading these words.

The graduates step into a world not of their making nor choosing. As they start to make choices, we already hear them voice their disapproval with budget cuts planned for the next school year. Reflect for a minute on how long and how weighty is these kids’ list of things they never asked for, don't want, may be scared to death of, and are stuck with.

Do we start with the school deficit, a result of a shrinking student population? Find the source of the problem in a lack of starter homes and working class housing, by the thousands of units just in Skagit County.

In past years their siblings and friends marched against mass killings by people with guns, against the possibility of random death visited upon any one of us, anywhere, at any time.

We have seen their family members and peers rally, calling for action toward climate change. They have experienced that as smoke in the air from wildfires, heat and, now, Swinomish Channel flooding.

It is easy to get drowned in the facts. But let's hope that education, at school, in the home and in the community stressed that facts are essential but they are not at the heart of life or decisions. No, we respond to emotions and to dreams. When thousands rise up in insurrection and storm the nation’s Capitol, they are not acting rationally. Both fear and, yes, love, are driving those actions.

When people rally for orcas and salmon, facts and hopes, both, motivate them. Hope is more energizing then despair.

Facts upon facts are important, but they are tools, whether a tape measurer or the newest AI technology. Classes and teachers start the day and the school year with a foundation of facts, but reaching tomorrow requires stretching beyond what is known. To reach a different, sustainable future requires leaping into it.

The Einstein quotation has another sentence: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

The 20th century British economist E.F. Schumacher, best known for his book “Small is Beautiful,” wrote: “Our ordinary mind always tried to persuade us that we are nothing but acorns and that our greatest happiness will be to become bigger, fatter, shinier acorns; but this is of interest only to pigs. Our faith gives us knowledge of something better: that we can become oak trees.”

The impetus of life is life. That most practical of romantics, Henry Thoreau, wrote, “Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

This crop of high school graduates have many things on their minds and in their hearts. They have all kinds of practical concerns. Just as important as pursuing “What am I going to do when I grow up?” is “Who am I and what is my place and role in the world?”

May they become what they imagine and hope their future selves into being.


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