We need you

BY ART CULLEN

The first of them go forward this weekend across the stage for Alta-Aurelia and good old St. Mary’s, our alma mater, full of relief, joy and aspiration. Some of them will keep on walking, and we pray their path is smooth. Others will stay among us and flower where they’re planted. Every time this year, as we grow a longer tooth and conjure musty smells of old stairwells, we offer our friendly exhortations.

Our first always is this:

Consider Buena Vista University or Iowa Central Community College as your first step off the stage. We want you as students. We want you as contributors to Storm Lake and Buena Vista County. We need you here. We need teachers and doctors and lawyers and, yes writers, and agronomists and biologists and welders and machinists and ministers.

We need all of them and all of you.

You might not realize that you can attend Buena Vista at a lower cost than a state university. You might want to start at Iowa Central to figure out if you want to be an electrician instead of an accountant. You may be surprised to learn that they want first-generation college students from immigrant backgrounds because they are tremendous students. At least, for your own sake you owe them a look.

Buena Vista Beavers built Storm Lake. They sustain Storm Lake. Think about it.

Our second point is much the same as the first:

We need you.

Iowa has suffered a great brain drain. Our best and brightest leave the state in droves every year for brighter lights and bigger dreams than they can realize here.

But so many of the world’s most important endeavors are underway out here along the gravel byways.

We still take pride in feeding the world. Some of the great nutrition science is in the labs at Iowa State University. We are figuring out ways to raise crops and livestock in harmony with the environment that enhance farm profit. Increasingly, we are powering the world. Western Iowa leads North America in wind power transmission. Research suggests Iowa has as much solar potential as Florida, believe it or not. Groundbreaking research on biofuels and more efficient corn fractioning is going on at humble little Galva. Algae research is being deployed to market through Cherokee. Cows are being cloned in Sioux County. Mind-boggling stuff that excites PhD’s.

We are building intriguing rural communities like Storm Lake where the whole world comes to meet. The great entrepreneurs of the future are the ones walking across that stage this weekend. We hope they play out their ambitions here.

The future of Iowa is great for young people. But they are the ones who must build that future. And for that, they must look to what anchors them amid this sea of corn and soy.

It is the sense of honesty and fair play that they learned at St. Mary’s and Alta-Aurelia. It is the commitment to hard work that they learn in Storm Lake. It is that you can be a champion from the smallest of towns if you aim high and keep your eye on the target, like they do in Newell or Fonda. And, it is that sense of community that embraces the stranger and tries to help him succeed along with you. That’s what Iowa has been about and should be about.

But it is none of those things if they just keep on walking. And that’s why we gray bears must maintain and enhance those things that should be Iowa: safe neighborhoods, clean air and water, public spaces for everyone along the lake, and care and concern for every neighbor rich or poor black or brown.

That’s the Iowa where a young woman can make her stand.

We must give young people a reason to dream here.

There are reasons. They are the parents who prepared these students, the schools that taught them so well like no place else in America, the churches and mentors who kept them on track, and the businesses that offer them opportunity just like they could have in Kansas City. We have to be the reason they want to stay or come back.

We have to offer them the amenities that make life whole. We have to offer open minds and hearts. We have to let them know that they are welcome here.

And we have to pray that they are drawn to a place like Storm Lake or Alta or Aurelia as we have been. We did not think ourselves to be sitting here one fine spring morning 42 years ago. Today, we would not have it any other way.