This is the time of year for graduations the life transitions they represent. My niece just graduated 8th grade and is excited to be headed to high school. High school graduates are looking forward to college or a job; college graduates, employment or graduate school. Despite the tough economy, the prospects for those with degrees are better than those without. Education is still the most reliable passport to financial security. We wish these graduates well and have high hopes for their future success.
Recently, I attended two very different graduations—those for men “graduating” from year long residential rehabilitation programs run by two Bay Area non-profits that serve recovering addicts and alcoholics. Like traditional academic graduations there were inspiring speeches. But at these ceremonies the inspiration came from the graduates who spoke so movingly of their gratitude to those who helped them overcome their addictions and literally save their lives.
For anyone who has never experienced the ravages of addiction and the hopelessness and despair it breeds, it is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the accomplishment of these graduates. It was humbling to hear them recount with such passion, humility and even humor, how they had struggled and how much they appreciate those who had helped them. One common theme was that this “graduation” was really a beginning, not an end. They acknowledged that their fight is not over, would never be over. In the glow of recognition for what they have already achieved, they brimmed with resolve and confidence that they will be able to move forward and live sober, productive lives.
Listening to them, hearing the encouragement from friends and family who had come to celebrate their achievements, I wanted to believe that they would all be able to build on their hard-won recovery. I am not a trained social worker or expert on addiction but I know their future is much more problematic than that of this season’s crop of academic graduates.
I worry that among the difficulties these grads face is a lack of good options for handling their financial affairs, as modest as they may be. In fact, I have learned that the only financial services they are likely to be familiar with and have easy access to are predatory pay-day loan and check cashing outlets. These grads have received some rudimentary advice regarding their finances, but in talking with them and the staff of the programs, it is clear they are not as well prepared in this area as they could be.
I began writing this blog as an exercise of discovery. How can a banker help the poor gain access to appropriate and effective financial services? I am beginning to see how I might play a useful role in this area. I am learning. I think I have just “graduated” to a new level of understanding. Graduations are also called “commencements” for a reason. Time to get to work.