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The Last Windrow: A farmer’s advice to graduates

I don’t remember the person who gave the commencement address at Hinton High School in May of 1965. I sat there amongst my senior classmates in the high temperature gymnasium just thinking that this was probably the last time I would see some of these people who had been on the journey with me for the past 12 years or so.

Our speaker had some degree from some college and seemed focused on telling us how fortunate we were and the challenges that we would face once we marched out of that auditorium. I really don’t remember much more than that.

I haven’t ever been invited to speak at a commencement of any type, nor would I seek that honor. What I learned during and after those school years had something to due with education, but much more to do with everyday experience. People like me learn more by doing than by studying.

I was thinking of what I might advise senior high school students if I were ever to give a commencement address. Some say only talk about things you may know; hence, I’ve come up with a seven pieces of advice I would give from a farmer’s perspective. I’ve found many of them to hold value.

Point No. 1: Show up early. Those who show up five minutes early rather than one minute late are usually on a path to success. Your boss will not say anything about you showing up early, but will notice if you show up one minute late. The boss also notices if you’re the last person to show up at the 8 o’clock meeting.

Point No. 2: Show gratitude for anyone who offers you a hand. It’s easy to pass over common courtesy, but that person who offers it knows if he or she has been appreciated or not. Showing gratitude means you acknowledge this act of kindness and it will be returned at some point in your life.

Point No. 3: If your neighbor’s herd strays through the fence, stop and help put them back into the pasture without being asked. Even if there is no one around to witness your task, your neighbor will know at some point and will somehow return the favor. You won’t know when or how, but the favor will be returned.

Point No. 4: Finish your job. Don’t leave one windrow of hay at the far end of the field just because it’s 6 o’clock and you’ve got a hot date. When you’re hired to do a job, finish it.

And, clean up afterward. Don’t let hay sit tangled on the baler. Grease the wheel bearing for the next day’s work. When you pull back into the farmyard, know that you’ve completed the job. You’ll be hired back.

Point No. 5: Don’t apologize for something you’re good at. That doesn’t mean bragging. Whether you’re planting a crop of corn or sowing a field of wheat, be proud of pulling your machinery straight and take pride in doing a job right.

And, don’t be afraid to charge for that good service. You earned it.

Point No. 6: Don’t always rely on the way things have been done in the past. History is a great teacher and many lessons can be learned from history, but the world is changing before our eyes and you must be able to adopt new thinking, almost daily.

So, keep your horizons wide and open. If we farmed the way our ancestors did, we would still be plowing straight up and down hills and only fertilizing the side of the farm next to the highway where passersby could see the crop. That doesn’t work anymore.

Point No. 7: Support your community. Your neighbors. You will be a part of some kind of community, no matter what you choose to do. You will be judged and appreciated for your support and involvement in those communities.

Much of that will come in the way of thankless jobs like sewer boards, watershed boards, county boards, church boards, civic boards and more. Those will seem like mundane tasks, but you are an important cog in the machinery that makes a community worth living in.

Be a part of that. And, someday, you may need that community in some way.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Those of us who were raised on the small farms of America learned life lessons from that experience and most of those experiences have stood us in good stead as we’ve crossed the timelines. I know I hold many of those lessons dear and meaningful.

You can learn only so much from a textbook.

See you next time, and happy graduation to our seniors! Okay?