It's graduation season across West Alabama.
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The signs are everywhere you look. With that in mind, we're proud to present something new that features the thoughts of diverse, compelling, and unique West Alabama residents.
Let's start with Tuscaloosa author, Russell Estes, and some interesting observations for the Class Of 2024.
*Views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this website or Townsquare Media Tuscaloosa
Graduating class of 2024– I want to talk to you for a moment. I know you don’t know me. You’re probably wondering who this dime-store writer is and why he is writing this. I don’t blame you. I get it. I am wondering the same thing. I often question myself on why I write.

I know you don’t have time for this. You are busy right now. Your whole world is changing. You have parties to attend, dinners to go to, and credit cards to apply for. I know that by now, you’re tired of these talks, but trust me, I need to get this off my chest. You may never thank me for it, but at least one of us will feel better about it.

First and foremost, I apologize. From the bottom of my cholesterol-filled heart, I am sorry. You’re walking into a world that has gone to Detroit in a handbasket, and I feel like it’s partially my fault. I can’t take all the blame, but I am part of the generation that got us here. One by one, we let things slip away from us. At first, we didn’t even notice it. The dinner table was tossed out while we were focused on making bigger televisions.

At the start of my generation, we had this thing called a picture album. Guess what? You actually had to turn pages to see the photos. Weird, right? Now, you’re probably reading this from your camera. In ten more years, a printed picture will be an ancient artifact sold in antique shops.

During my term, things got crazy. They started giving away participation awards like it was church peppermint. Just show up and you win. They invented “inclusion trophies” while they removed prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, and ten cassettes for a penny. They even took away Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, for crying out loud.

We grew up watching Captain Kangaroo and drinking from garden hoses. We were tough as Red Man spit. We didn’t know about the invention of air conditioning, because we lived outside. We stood up for our rights and would fight over song lyrics. We would even sneak gulps of homemade moonshine that would kill a full-grown politician.

We played with M-80 firecrackers and double-barreled shotguns. If you double-dog dared us, we would jump from fifty feet into waters too dark to see into. Life was wide open and the throttle was stuck. We lived every second of it to the fullest with no brakes.

But, somewhere along the way, we let someone convince us to watch reality television and only drink purified water imported from a glacier in New York. We traded in double cheeseburgers and eight-cylinder hotrods for electric cars and kale salads.

But here is the good news. You can do something about all this. While Washington figures out how to clean their own hindquarters, you have the opportunity to do something brand new. Maybe you will invent something nobody has thought of. Maybe a vaccine that cures laziness. That would be a good start.

Graduating senior, you are inheriting a sissified version of what I inherited. My people grew up in fistfights and getting sick by trying our old man’s chewing tobacco. Your group attends therapy and is the reason warning labels are on Tide pods. And I can’t see where that improved anything.

But here you are! You are about to go out into the world and cause a ruckus! You have been told that the world awaits you in all its glory. You have big plans. Thats great! We need big plans.

But listen to me when I say this: You don’t have to move far away for big things to happen. Big things happen because you make them happen, not because of where you are. And if you do move away, don’t dig up your roots. Trust me on this one… one day you will need those roots. Those roots will be what get you through some sort of hell on earth. It’s coming. We all have our own hell-on-earth moments. But you will survive it if you listen to what I am saying.

Graduates, I want you to chase your dreams. Don’t give up. Dream big and stay after it. Some people will discourage you. They may even laugh at your dreams. They’ll want you to settle. Don’t! Settling leads to bad things… like becoming a writer.

Who knows. One day you may do something huge, like inventing better fishing lures. Perhaps you’ll find a way to go back to the moon. It may even be bigger. I’m telling you… dreams don’t have boundaries. If you believe in your dreams, you could do something bigger than anything I’ve mentioned. Perhaps you could even manage a Waffle House. I know… I’m shooting big here, but that’s what this is about.

Maybe you have no idea what’s next. Perhaps you are still undecided about what lies ahead. I want to tell you is that it’s okay not to know what you’re going to do now. I am fifty-two and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

But I do know one thing. I won’t give up. I’ll never give up on my dreams. Because one thing I’ve learned is that dreams don’t play well together with schedules. If you allow life to control you, your schedules will not allow you to live life at all. You’ll be too busy attending meetings, handing out business cards, and eating kale salads.

You’re grown now! An adult. You pay taxes. Momma won’t wash your clothes forever. You smell your laundry to decide what to wear. But guess what… you’re still a kid. And kids are supposed to enjoy life while you figure it out. It takes a while for these things. I’m still figuring it out. I guess I’ll always be a kid. And I’m not even mad about it.

The truth is… the only people who think they have it figured out are in Washington. You see what has happened there. They’re as lost as a blindfolded donkey in the desert. That’s why it is important for you to turn this thing around.

I don’t want to add any pressure, but it’s your turn to get the monkeys off the merry-go-round. You get to bring all your ideas and present them to us. But don’t expect it to go as you planned, even if you’ve practiced in front of the mirror a gazillion times. Because life cannot be planned. Life is unpredictable.

Things are going to be overwhelming. It was for me too — and the ones before me. Even my ancestors. We have all had our shot at this. We all thought we were the generation that would change the world. But the world kept changing us because our dreams died.

Some people would say that this world is too far gone to do anything about it. I don’t believe that. I believe that somewhere out there someone has an idea that may change the whole world. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you’re the one. Perhaps as soon as you throw your graduating cap into the rafters, you’ll go out and do something so amazing that Congress tries to ban it.

I hope you win. I hope you succeed. I know you will need a shoulder to cry on, and a good credit score, and every single day you will need to ask God for his forgiveness and grace. For without those, you might as well move to Washington.

Stay with me. I'm getting to the point. I’m here to tell you the most important thing you’ll hear. It ain’t much, but it holds weight. Are you ready? Write this down if need be. Okay, here goes:

I believe in you!

Your turn. You say it now. No! Not me… nobody believes in me. But go stand in front of your mirror. Just do it. I don’t care if you’re still in your underbritches. Just go do it.

Okay. Are you there? Okay… say these words. It goes like this:

I believe in myself. I believe in my dreams. I believe in big things. And I believe I will be okay.

That’s it. That’s the secret to life. I could have saved you a bunch of time by starting with this. But remember… life doesn’t play by the rules, and we are not on schedule anyway.

Congratulations! Now go do big things!

But put some pants on. Nobody will hire you if you are still walking around in your under britches.

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