It’s hard to believe that the young men and women who accepted their high school diplomas in Helena yesterday are too young to remember the Y2K scare, the September 11 attacks or a world without cellphones.

But it’s time to recognize that those kids born toward the end of the Clinton administration aren’t kids anymore, but contributing members of society.

For the parents, grandparents, teachers, commanders and bosses of these young adults, it’s time to let them spread their wings. Though members of the next generation have much to learn from those who have walked in their shoes, the advancement of our society depends on young people who are willing and able to break the mold.

For the graduates, it’s time to start thinking independently. Many of them might feel pressure to align their core beliefs with those of friends, family or authority figures, but we want to challenge them to not take this easy way out.

There’s no escaping our country’s toxic political climate, which has spilled over into virtually every part of daily life. Whether their future plans include college, trade school, the military or the workforce, this year’s graduates will face the daunting task of finding their place in a deeply divided society that can’t seem to agree on anything.

As the late, great Will Rogers once said, “You know everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.” And the ability of these new graduates to reason and critically evaluate their own beliefs and the beliefs of others will be vital as they forge their own path in life.

Recent figures put the graduation rate at 86 percent in Montana and 83.2 percent nationally, which means the class of 2017 has already accomplished more than many of their peers. We want to congratulate them for making it this far and encourage them to keep up the good work.

We’ve all heard people joke about being nice to your kids because they will choose your nursing home. All joking aside, this generation will one day run our nursing homes -- as well as our hospitals, schools, media, government, and other institutions critical to our lives.

Their future is our future. And we like what we see so far.

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