We must stop future farewells

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It’s happening again, and it seems too late to stop it this time.

The problem has been clearly identified, yes, but finding a solution seems so much harder.

I don’t have all the answers, nor is it possible for any single community member to fix things all alone.

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But with the last turn of the tassel comes our last goodbye — maybe forever.

Graduation is a time of celebration for students, families and friends, but for our community, it’s a sad day.

Too often that diploma is a ticket out of town, never to return again.

Our best and brightest have made life special for those around them for years. Their contributions to society in the future will no doubt be great.

Trinity Episcopal valedictorian and STAR Student Jheri Dupré Ogden has had her photo in the newspaper so many times this year that our photographers are running out of cool ways to pose her.

The National Merit Finalist and track star has been recognized for her community service, kind heart and great spirit throughout her high school career.

The same can be said for Cathedral’s STAR student Davis Beard, who has been making headlines each spring since she was an 11-year-old tennis superstar.

Ferriday’s valedictorian Xavier Allen balanced academics, sports and his job fixing district computers this year.

He realizes a strong work ethic is as good as gold.

And there are dozens more graduates this community should be fighting to keep.

Scan the list of life plans our top students have and you’ll see some big jobs — electrical engineer, doctor, lawyer, chiropractor, biological engineer.

But will those students be able to fulfill their career plans in the Miss-Lou?

Some will. Many won’t.

What’s our plan?

A continued exodus of the community’s best minds will show itself in every way. Bright minds create jobs for other bright minds so without your stars, the cycle can get ugly.

But remember, one person won’t fix this problem alone.

Every civic organization, political body, church or community committee must recognize that attracting outstanding high school students back home after college is an important goal.

Each group must identify their role in achieving such a goal.

From quality of life to job opportunity, the Miss-Lou has to be attractive to a young superstar who could go anywhere.

Another year has passed without a master plan and we are once again saying goodbye to valuable community members.

Will we sit for four years, fingers crossed, hoping they’ll opt to return home?

Or can we be more proactive this year so that the class of 2011 is different?

Step one to change may just be underneath all those graduation caps around us.

Each Chamber of Commerce or the new Natchez, Inc., and regionalism groups could assemble a meeting of the top students from each area school and pick their brains. Tell them how proud you are of them and how valuable they are to their hometowns.

Ask them for ideas. What would make them come back to the Miss-Lou? What could attract their friends?

These are smart young adults. They’ll have smart answers.

Then, tell them you want them back and offer to help in anyway.

Let’s make this a “See you later,” not a “Goodbye.”

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of the Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.