You can see it in the faces of the thousands of brand new graduates we photographed over the last few weeks at scores of high school commencements. Children blossoming into adults, their confident, shining faces eager to confront an unknowable future.
A large percentage of these suburban grads will go to college. Many already have a good idea what they'll do with their lives, but many will change their minds a time or two before they graduate again. And that's just fine. College is as much about learning who you are as it is learning a trade or profession.
Consider Christopher Devron, a one-time Palatine kid who went to the University of Notre Dame to become a lawyer. Along the way, as Daily Herald columnist Burt Constable wrote on Sunday, he changed course in a very big way. In 2001, 12 years after graduating from Notre Dame, Devron was ordained a Catholic priest. And seven years later, he decided to start a nontraditional high school on Chicago's West Side, where students earn their way through school -- and learn a good deal about the working world and the suburbs -- by working five days a month at a variety of companies, many of them in the suburbs.
Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School is in the Austin neighborhood, culturally the polar opposite of the suburbs. Achievement is low, expectations lower. Fewer than half the kids who go to high school graduate. College, by and large, is not on their radar. But 100 percent of Devron's first graduating class this year has been accepted into college. And that sort of turnaround got the attention of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
"Conventional wisdom says this day is not possible," Emanuel told the crowd that came to watch the 50 students graduate on Saturday. He described the obstacles the kids face in their neighborhood -- poverty, crime and drugs; how many say there is no hope they'll see college. "I know Father Devron will say, 'Yes, we can.'"
As today's suburban high school graduates prep later this summer for their first day of higher education, they should keep an open mind to the possibilities before them.
Parents, of course, want them to be happy, but they also want them to be able to pay off those student loans, have a suitable place to live, a working automobile and room for grandkids, and all those things are valuable.
But what's just as important as a good paycheck and reliable transportation is finding something in life that makes you truly happy, leaves you at the end of the day -- at the end of a career -- with a sense of accomplishment. And if that can be achieved while doing something that helps others, all the better.
Sometimes, as Devron showed, it's good for a person to steer off the conventional path to something more satisfying, more noble. Just maybe, as Devron also showed, that also can involve steering others from a restricted, unfulfilling path to one with unlimited possibilities.