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GRADUATES GAIN FROM RURAL ROOTS: Graduating high school students in rural communities across the nation can thank not only their parents, family members and friends for guidance and love, but also much of the community, for support, protection and assistance in reaching their goals.

Rural youth shaped in part by their communities

In small towns, everyone looks after each other and pitches in.

The next chapter in our family life has come along. It still hasn't sunk in yet. My wife and I now have a high school graduate and future college student in our family. As we were preparing for our oldest daughter, Lauren, to graduate from high school this spring, we reflected on how fast our children have grown up.

In preparation for Lauren's graduation and party that we hosted for family and friends on the farm, we were trying to come up with a guest list so invitations could be sent out.

This was no easy task. We could have invited nearly everyone in town, because so many outside of immediate family have influenced Lauren in profound ways over the past 18 years. That's the way it is in small towns and rural areas. Folks living and working in hometowns across the country get a front-row seat in watching the youth of the community grow up.

Looking at old photos from when our daughter was in grade school, we know how important her early teachers, choir directors and parish pastors ministering at St. Rose School were to her growth academically and spiritually. We could add her volunteer coaches for youth volleyball, softball and basketball teams, who gave hundreds of hours to coach our daughter and her teammates. We consider her 4-H leaders, our Extension educators and office secretaries who served as mentors, having faith in this young girl who would go on to excel in 4-H and be an officer in her club.

Nearly every hometown business person has touched her life, including the folks at the grocery store who have watched her grow up and provided a few birthday cakes for celebrations and flowers for prom. We can't forget the folks at the local bank where she opened her first savings account. And the physician's assistant and her nurse at the clinic who patched up her bumps and bruises, and taken care of aches and pains. The list could include the family who owns the bowling alley, the local restaurant owners who hosted our family outings, the folks at the local feed stores where we purchase feed for Lauren's 4-H critters, and the insurance agents who have protected our family in times of crisis.

We are so grateful for the impact of Lauren's high school teachers, coaches and administrators, with many of them spending hundreds of hours guiding her over the course of four years. How about those parents of our daughter's teammates who sat in the bleachers with us to cheer on the Crofton teams? And, of course, her FFA instructor, chorus and band teachers, and art and speech teachers, who have cultivated her creativity, self-confidence and leadership potential.

There is no way we could invite everyone to the graduation party, but we certainly could have justified it. These and many more have had a part in helping our daughter grow up, in watching over and protecting her, and in helping us as parents bring out the best in her. That's one of the great perks of bringing your children up in a small town. Everyone looks after each other and pitches in. The attitudes of caring and generosity are genuine.

It takes a family to raise a child, but it is comforting to reflect on how much folks in your hometown mean to you and your family while you are raising those children.

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