During our recent visit to Kentucky, Melinda and I had lunch with a group of students from Betsy Layne High School. It was a highlight of our trip.
Over pepperoni pizza and soda, we talked about what it’s like to grow up in Eastern Kentucky and what their plans are for the future. One of the students we met was Lakeisha Crum. She’s a senior at the high school. A stellar student and volleyball player, Lakeisha will be the first person in her family to go to college.
Being a teenager is an exciting time in everyone’s life. It can also be quite hard. (I know. I’m the father of three of them, and a former teenager myself.) You’re just starting to figure out who you are and what you want to do with your life.
For decades in Eastern Kentucky, the coal mines provided young people with answers to those questions. The pay was good. Work was steady. You could stay close to home, raise a family, and build a career.
But the collapse of the coal industry left behind a giant void.
Now, many students are filling it with education. Instead of going to the mines, they are going to college.
Stories like Lakeisha’s are always inspiring. Still, being the first one to go to college can be tough, especially coming from an isolated part of the country like Appalachia. Students told us that it’s hard to find role models. People who can tell them what college will be like and how to prepare for life away from home.
What was most moving was to hear how dedicated all the students are to Eastern Kentucky. With the coal mining jobs gone and nothing yet to take their place, some people think that this part of Kentucky doesn’t have a future. But many of the students I met are committed to coming home after college to start making one.
If they’re as successful in their careers as they have been in high school, I have no doubt they will.