To the Strasburg, Central and Stonewall Jackson classes of 2018: As you prepare to walk across the stage into early adulthood this weekend, I’m sure you are aware of many people who are proud of you: your families, relatives, teachers, coaches, and friends. However, there is one group whose pride may not be obvious to you, but who are very proud nonetheless. It is the broader Shenandoah community that has supported your education since you first walked through the doors of kindergarten 13 years ago.

You may not know it, but the education you received from the school division costs about $130,000 of federal, state and local money, and about $55,000 of that came from local taxes. To put that in perspective, almost 2 1/2 times as much money as the average Shenandoah County household makes in a year has been invested in you. Some of that money was paid willingly, and some of it grudgingly, but everyone in this county who owns real estate, cars or other personal property contributed.   For some people, it was a struggle or sacrifice to make those payments.

However, that is not the whole story. On top of that, there were all the extra hours teachers and coaches put into extra-curriculars for which they were paid little or nothing. There were all the volunteers who gave their time to try to make your school experience more successful. There were all the nights your parents, grandparents or friends helped you with your homework; all the drives to extracurricular events; and all the times they sacrificed so that you could have decent clothes and supplies for school.

Here is something else you need to know: you are absolutely worth it.

Some of you will continue to build on your education at universities, community college, or in learning a trade. Some of you will end up in professions where you use aspects of your formal education every day. But it is a popular misconception that the only reason for education is to train you to make money.

We hope that the history and civics you studied help you understand the greatness of the country in which you live and that they inspire a commitment to preserving that greatness. We hope the literature you studied helped you understand our shared humanity and culture. We hope the math you studied will help you manage money well throughout your life and achieve economic security. We hope the critical thinking skills you have acquired will help you separate fact from fiction in the public square, in a world where misinformation and disinformation drive much public discussion. We hope you have learned discipline, and the value of hard-work, both of which are critical to success in every aspect of your life.

Many of you will go away – some for a time, and some forever. However, we hope many of you, at some point in your life, will find your way back to this beautiful valley to raise your children as you were raised. It falls to us, the adults of this community, to make sure that when you do, Shenandoah County will have an economy in which you can work and raise a family.

In the not-to-distant future, the time will come when you will start to pay back what was invested in you. You will become taxpayers, and you will be called to invest your tax dollars in the education of the generations that follow you. While no one enjoys paying taxes, we hope that you will recognize that this is the continuation of the cycle that brought you to your graduation today. Education is becoming more expensive as we prepare children for an increasingly complex world, but we hope you will accept these costs, wanting the next generation to have the even better opportunities than you have had.

We wish you joy and pride for your big day, along with a safe celebration. We hope you are leaving with happy memories that you will treasure for the rest of your life, and with pride in the community that educated you. That community is certainly proud of you.

Dan Walsh is president of Shenandoah County Parents’ Alliance for Strong Schools (PASS).