Thousands of students from high schools throughout Washington County are walking across stages to thunderous applause as they clasp their high school diplomas, bringing to an end four long years of learning.

To those students we have this to say: Don't let anyone take away from you the significance of this achievement. No matter what anyone says, a high school diploma represents hard work, dedication and academic success.

There are those, mind you, who will tell you a high school diploma has little value. But we know that's not true. You've learned how to communicate, write, compute and analyze. These are important life skills. We also know the requirements of a high school diploma in 2012 exceed what students were expected to achieve even 10 years ago.

It used to be that students needed three years of English to graduate, but now they need four. The requirement for science increased from two years to three years.

There also is the addition of 'Essential Skills.' This year's seniors must pass the state test for reading or provide two work samples demonstrating proficiency in reading. Next year's seniors will need to pass the essential skills requirements in reading and writing. Members of the class of 2014 will need to demonstrate they have essential skills in reading, writing and math.

While we congratulate all of our high school graduates, we also would be remiss if we didn't point out the harsh reality that a high school education - no matter how rigorous - will do little to help young people enter professional careers.

In most instances, employers are looking for highly skilled recruits who fall into two categories: those with college degrees and those who have completed post high school training. Nearly 70 percent of new jobs require post high school education.

While a high school diploma is symbolic of four years of hard work, in practical terms it ought to be viewed primarily as the most important addendum to a college entrance application.

Young people who opt out of college, trusting on their high school diplomas to carry them forward, are wagering their livelihoods on a long shot.

The U.S. Labor Department, in an article in The Wall Street Journal, reports that more and more high school graduates are going to college. About 70 percent of high school graduates went to to college in 2009, up from 63 percent in 1999.

In other words, 70 percent of high school grads are going to college, and 70 percent of new jobs require college diplomas. For those who choose against college, it means they place themselves at an ever-increasing disadvantage in a highly competitive job market.

The moral of this editorial is simple: Congratulations on your high school diploma, but don't stop now. Your most important training is yet to come.

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