A Letter to Our Graduates

Bruce Walden.jpg

Contributed by Bruce Walden

I’m addressing this mainly to those who are graduating this year. Very soon several folks will jump into the race for mayor, assembly and school board. Soon, you’ll be called upon to vote up or down on several judges. It is time to take a really close look at what is going on, and what is coming up. And to my younger friends, I ask you, “How does your future in Alaska look?”

I say this to my own shame that my generation has done a very poor job of seeing to it that there is something for the generations coming up. Some of us “have ours”, but what about our folks who’ll cross the stage here in a few days and receive their high school diploma? What does it really mean for them?

There are those who will be very angry with me for saying this, but I challenge you to prove me wrong. The state of Alaska’s schools rate near or at dead last in the nation. Our young folks go to college and, through no fault of their own, have to take remedial math and English because they were taught poorly in high school. We are not educating our young folks. You can hate me for saying that, but the proof is in the pudding and again, the students didn’t do this - we did this. We stood by and allowed this to happen. And do not tell me that it is because of the rural schools bringing down our average. We’re either striving for number one or we’re losing ground - period.

We’ll graduate about 1800 young adults this year from the Borough, and many will leave the state because they cannot afford to live here. Jobs are scarce and the jobs that we have in the Borough are pitifully low paying jobs. Granted, someone just exiting high school may expect to start off at the bottom; but sadly, here in the Mat-Su the top is not so far removed from the bottom, so what then?

Housing is less expensive here in the Borough than in Anchorage, and if one has the get-up-and-go, he/she might get a piece of land and build a cabin and get by. But trust me when I tell you, there are better ways to do that. I have some ideas, but I will be fought tooth and nail by the Borough and by the industry. Well, I’ll say it plainly: I do not care what the borough government thinks of me, or what the housing industry thinks of me. I care that we are losing our best and brightest every year and it has to stop. Nobody has a real plan to fix it that I can see. Lip service yes, but not a real fix. Our best move away and those who remain will be the ones taking care of me when I’m no longer able to care for myself. The ones that remain either go to low-wage jobs or go into such lucrative industries as the manufacturing and selling of meth! Folks, we can do better.

I will state again, as I have in the past, we have an opportunity to lead the state and in doing so, the nation- if we only will. It remains to be seen whether we have the will to do so. I say we do, and I say we must!

When our young folk who stay here fall into the rental trap or wind up spending fifteen years in Mom and Dad’s basement to build up the credit to move out on their own, we’ve failed.  

I joined the military because I loved the military and still do. If you join for love of country, good on you.  When you join the military simply for a ticket out of Alaska, I promise you are going to be miserable. I’ve talked to many young folks from here that go outside and are immediately homesick for Alaska, but cannot afford to live here because jobs are rare as is housing.  

Here’s the bottom line, folks: Are you satisfied with the government you have now? Are you happy with the education system we have here now? I’m not asking if you are influenced and bullied by the entities I just mentioned. I asked if you are happy and satisfied. If you are, then I encourage you to vote for the folks you have now. If you are not, then I cannot say loudly enough, “Vote for something different.” Let’s become a first-class borough, let’s take charge of our destiny. Let us become business-friendly and let us get on with the business of being a state. We attained to statehood 59 years ago. Isn’t it time we started acting like a state?  I say it is.