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Around the nation and right here in Southwest Florida, families are closing chapters in their children’s lives, as they prepare to move to the next step in their educations or beginnings of careers.

Here on Marco, parents are shuttling kids into Naples to prepare for their senior proms, although no longer just an affair for juniors or seniors. Out will come the fancy suits and tuxedos for the young men, many of which can be seen scratching their necks due to the unfamiliarity of a starched collar.

Stunning and beautiful dresses and gowns bring tears of pride to the eyes of mothers and fathers all over the region as they come to realize their little girl has grown up and is preparing for one of the special evenings of her life. For many, this has become a rite of passage. It is an event they have building up to for the last 11 years.

At the same time, many of these students are preparing to say goodbye to their high school years. Some will move onto further educational pursuits, others into the military or additional technical learning opportunities.

For some, they will attend their graduation on a Saturday and prepare to enter the workforce on Monday morning. There will be no more recess, lunch bell or requesting a hall pass. Instead they will report to work for the next 50 years.

Many may never leave the area they grew up in, while some will eventually return to the “comfort zone” they called home after graduation from college, discharge from the military or other endeavors.

Not everything is going to go as planned for some. They will face obstacles in what they had hoped to be a relatively seamless transition from the ease of high school to the responsibilities in the real world.

Some may even face the challenge of adapting to the new role as the small fish in a big pond scenario. Relationships will also change, as well as new doors open to opportunities many could not have imagined.

Parents will question whether they had done enough to prepare their children for what lies before them as they prepare to enter their adult years. They will also wonder if they have provided the proper guidance to their children to help them avoid the pitfalls and avoid some of the mistakes they had made themselves as young adults.

Some of our young men and women will immediately step up to the line and raise their right hand and take the loyalty oath as they enlist in the military. They do so during very challenging times in our world, but through their service and sacrifice they will make a considerable difference in the world their children will grow up in.

A special tribute has to be paid to those children who are the product of single-parent households. That phenomenon has increased over the years, where recently we see only 46 percent of children in households where both parents are in their first marriage, 15 percent of marriages where one or both parents are remarried. Another 34 percent are single parents bringing up their children and 5 percent of households have no parent present, according to PEW Research.

The dedication of those in the 55 percent of non-traditional households is extraordinary in many cases. Unfortunately there are cases not so fortunate, and for those children we must do what we can to offer them opportunity and positive choices.

As the doors to gymnasiums and auditoriums swing open this month and the next group of graduates emerges, we all should come forward and do what we can to ensure they are successful. However, in the end, it will be their dedication to staying on a path for success that will determine their future and that of this great nation.

Congratulations class of 2016. Make us all proud!

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