We are approaching the time of the school year when high school seniors are beginning to see the end of, what were for most, the blissful high school years. They are becoming giddy about going to college, going to work, getting married or whatever they have mentally carved out as their next step in life. Invariably, the generic comments that are repeatedly recited at this time of the year center around both the opportunity and the pressures of today’s world. Recognition of both equally apply to a balanced view of the future.

Certainly, opportunity and challenges abound as never before. Technology and educational opportunities have literally created a world where one’s expectations can only be limited by one’s own ingenuity or aspirations. The information technology age has wiped out borders and boundaries, both geographical and economical. The world is a wealthy and ever expanding economic juggernaut. At the same time, accessing that pool of wealth requires more than blind luck. Discipline, ethical judiciousness, educational pursuit and common sense are still the basics going forward but are seemingly in shorter supply than ever before. To those with the moxie to persevere and willingness to sacrifice, the opportunities in a troubled world abound with almost no limits.

Up to this point in their young lives, high school seniors defined pressure around a deadline for a term paper, passing TAKS tests or whether or not the sprained ankle would recover sufficiently to play in the next game. Now many of us can look back on those blissful days and recall when such was the case in our inexperienced, naive lives.

New definitions of pressure are about to emerge for these young people, pressures brought on by fate, surprise and unpreparedness.

Several years ago I attended a scholarship awards ceremony sponsored by a local civic club. The keynote speaker redefined pressure for a group of 30 graduating seniors assembled to receive $500 scholarships. His definition was brief and painfully easy to comprehend.

Zac Gray, longtime Lion’s Club activist from Brady, was the speaker. He capsulized the emerging redefinition of pressure with a two sentence comparison. “Today, pressure is a chemistry test or a term paper due at the end of the week. But real pressure is three kids, no job and a spouse in the hospital,” Gray said. You could hear a pin drop in the hall. Thirty high school seniors, their parents and many of their teachers had just gotten doused with a double dose of reality.

In conjunction with the proclamation that “life’s real pressures will come and you will be tested,” Gray reassured that “with higher education you will be better equipped to deal with life’s real pressures when they do come.”

At a time when the focus is on the positive side of life’s rites of passage, it’s good to be exposed to balance. It’s helpful when some outside objective source describes the world in a way that parents and teachers have spent 18 years trying to convey, sometimes more successfully than others. Too often, only the opportunities and past achievements get mentioned and though those opportunities and achievements are very real, they come with an encumbrance of past naivete, future responsibility and realization that past achievements are just that… past. Having been most valuable player on the football team won’t carry much weight “when you are out of work, with three kids, and a wife in the hospital.”

John Kliebenstein is circulation and operations manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesdays. E-mail him at john.kliebenstein@brownwoodbulletin.com.