This year graduates are finally able to graduate—in person. It will be joyous to see graduates walk across the stage to receive their diploma or degree.

In Los Banos both high schools, Pacheco and Los Banos, will hold their graduation ceremony in person on June 3, beginning at 8 p.m.–at Lofton Stadium for Los Banos High, at Veterans Stadium for Pacheco High.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend either event, but I will be going to three other graduations, one in Chula Vista, CA; another in Reno, NV; and a third in Portland, OR.

This summer my grandson Gio receives his diploma from Eastlake High School in Chula Vista. My granddaughter Kaila receives her bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada, Reno; and my granddaughter Hanna receives her master’s degree from the National University of Natural Medicine.

As always, graduations this year will be filled with pride and joy. Seldom have we needed joy more. For the last two years there were no in-person ceremonies. Students had to be satisfied with either Zoom or drive-by events.

There’s another reason we need joy now. We live in difficult, even chaotic times. Many students at all levels have experienced isolation, frustration, even clinical depression.

Educators around the country have said that countless students at all levels today need–sometimes desperately need–mental health counseling.

Graduations are also times for reflection. Many students and their parents are also wondering, for example, if a college education is worth it–literally. Students’ college debt across the country is higher than ever; some students take more than a decade to pay off their educational loans.

College students, however, don’t have to go into debt. Those who choose to attend a public community college, especially in California, can take two years of college at a very low cost.  And if they need to transfer to a four-year public university in California, the cost is reasonable.

Many students, at both the two-year and four-year levels, qualify for financial aid, if they fill out and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Students and parents who believe college is not affordable or inevitably causes mountains of debt are sadly misinformed.

At the same time, many students and parents are also wondering if college is truly needed to find a good job and a good career. That is a legitimate question.

Almost all well-paying careers require some college education, but not necessarily a four-year degree. In some cases, like EMT training, it takes only a few months in a community college course to earn the needed certificate.

In today’s world, many careers in the workforce that used to be called vocational jobs or trades which previously needed only a high school diploma now require a college certificate or degree.

I suggest that students–and their parents–go through a simple process to determine if they need a college education and whether it’s worth it. Begin with this question:  “In what career would I find fulfillment and earn a salary that would adequately support myself and my family?”

Another way of phrasing the question could be, “What is my dream job?”

It’s true not all dreams come true but having a dream can spur a person to look carefully at a desirable career and then figure out what it would take to be successful in that career.

Following a dream can also reveal other paths which persons might not have considered unless they explored their dream.

Prospective students in Los Banos and nearby towns who want to know what education is needed for their dream job or fulfilling career can get advice and help by making an appointment at the Los Banos Campus of Merced College (209.826.3431), where a counselor or other staff member could help them.

For Los Banosans and other residents of Merced County thinking about a career requiring a bachelor’s degree who would rather use their cell phone, tablet or computer, there is a new alternative. Merced College, in partnership with the University of California, Merced, has developed a new app which can help both students and parents.

The app, called a “Program Pathways Mapper,” is free and available to all persons. They need simply to use this link (, and they’ll see a wide variety of careers that require a bachelor’s degree, along with the range of jobs within each career and the pay that comes with them.

This app will also show how a student can move along a path at Merced College and then continue on a path at UC Merced, displaying what courses to take and when, and how to complete a bachelor’s degree in four years, if those paths are followed.

Students and their parents then can make informed decisions on “dream jobs” or what I would rather call “fulfilling careers” and the investment required in education, as well as the payoff of income within that career.

I hope that graduations this year will spur people of all ages, especially graduates, to reflect on their future, especially their careers.

I wish all graduates this year the very best, and I hope they find fulfillment, not only in a career but in all other aspects of life that bring satisfaction, and, yes, joy.