Smithton students get lesson in choices

March 15, 2013

The choices made now can have an effect for a lifetime.

That was the message from guest speaker Lt. Col. Preston McConnell during a speech at Smithton High School’s career day Thursday. Speaking to nearly 200 high school students, McConnell, a 17-year veteran of the United States Air Force and an A-10 pilot, stressed the importance of making good decisions now to reap the rewards later.

“The choices we make now can limit you, limit the choices you’ll be able to make in the future,” he told the students. “Or they can  have a positive impact on the rest of your life. You probably fall into one of two camps, the ‘I have a dream and know exactly what I want to do in life’ group or the ‘I have no clue what I want to do’ group. I’ll be honest, I was in the latter group when I was your age.”

When in high school McConnell said he was determined to play professional football. During his sophomore year, a friend told him he wanted to join the Air Force, to which McConnell replied, “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” McConnell did end up joining the Air Force — playing football along the way — and said it was the best decision he made.

“No matter what you decide to do in life, making sure you excel with everything you set your mind to can only help you in the long run,” he said. “No one ever underestimates the value of working hard and getting the little things right.”

McConnell was just one of several speakers at the school Thursday, which ranged from photographers to psychologists to insurance agents and aquatic biologists.

The event, sponsored by the school’s Future Business Leaders of America club, allowed high school students to spend half a day listening to lectures from professionals in various career fields.

“Something we really strive to do every year is bring in people from a variety of careers,” said Smithton business teacher and FBLA advisor Tara Wirt. “And, equally important, careers that don’t necessarily require a college degree.

We have vocational-tech programs or professions where you can walk right into them from high school represented today. It’s important to let our students know there are a lot of options available to them, not just traditional ones.”

McConnell said he was happy to speak at the event Thursday, especially because it allowed him to give back.

“This is the next generation, they’re going to be leading the country one day,” he said. “I’m not sure how much of my advice they’ll actually follow but I’m hoping, if nothing else, they’ll listen.”