By R. Christopher Haines, President and CEO

It’s that time of year again. Did you go to the store with your mom and get a few new pairs of stiff, ugly, darker than they should be, blue jeans? The kind that won’t look cool until they’re washed every week until about March? But by then they’ll only be long enough to go halfway down your shin? Did you get yourself a fresh haircut and the one pair of sneakers you were allotted per year?

It’s also time for school lunch. I started my school years shortly after open lunches ended in favor of meals from the school cafeteria. The menu was littered with delicacies the kids nowadays couldn’t even imagine, such as tomato supreme and salmon patties. And how many of you to this day can’t have tomato soup without a grilled cheese or chili without a peanut butter sandwich? Thank your school lunch ladies for that. My son, Cameron, packs his lunch probably 29 out of every 30 days. Kids these days.

Cameron is starting 7th grade, and let’s just say he is less than thrilled. The days of riding his scooter around town and late nights playing Fortnite are over, at least until next summer. Aside from this, he is starting Jr. High. And that’s a pretty big deal. I think Jr. High is when it really starts getting tough. The school work is one thing. But the social pressure, the popularity contests, and the constant desire to fit in is something completely different.

Not much good came out of my Jr. High and High School years. So, it’s hard for me to try to convince Cameron to enjoy it. But the number one thing I know now that I wish I knew then is that socially, those years don’t matter at all. Sure, there are academic lessons to be gained during those formative years. But what happens socially really doesn’t matter in the long run. And I need to make sure he never forgets that. Looking back, I made some stupid decisions and did some dumb things just trying to be popular.

The other thing I’ve been trying to convince him is to learn all he can. This one is also difficult because no one likes homework and studying for tests. But it’s not all about what’s in the textbooks. There are lessons to be learned from every situation you may find yourself in — how to act, how not to act, how to treat people based on the way you’re treated, good or bad, and how it makes you feel. I didn’t really have respect for learning until a few years ago, well into adulthood. I guess I thought I had it all figured out. Now I strive to learn something every day. I’m still not using most of Algebra II in my daily life, but we can always be a better person tomorrow than we are today.

So, the lessons are simple: never quit learning, and don’t jump off a bridge just because everyone else is doing it. And also, how did I get so old that my youngest kid is in 7th grade? Wow.