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Feel pressure? Take cue from next generation

Americans these days are feeling a little bit like the pot roast in a pressure cooker.

But I saw none of that recently at a job fair at Lakewood Ranch High School. The students have either learned to keep their cool in extraordinary ways or have the confidence of youth that things will work out.

Maybe it’s a little bit of both. They do have time on their side.

Living through these times, the students are getting lessons they don’t normally get in the classroom. They now know that along with good times, there are inevitably the bad. That the world is full of the responsible and the irresponsible. That there is greed and generosity.

At the job fair, one of the students I talked to was Ashley Harding, who has taken cosmetology classes at Manatee Technical Institute and is looking into applying to Aveda Institute in St. Petersburg, and then possibly pursuing a four-year degree in business. She is seeking scholarships and putting her requests on recycled paper.

Shelby Swafford was another. Shelby is interested in pursuing a career in journalism. Brave girl, considering the well-publicized difficulties newspapers are experiencing right now. But a smart girl, Shelby. She understands that Americans will continue to have a thirst for news in their community and their world, that someone will need to explain events and put them in context. And that there will be communication options in 10 or 20 years that we can scarcely envision.

Another student at the job fair was Flo Saldana, who staffed a booth for MTI.

Flo is old enough to be the mother of any of the students at the high school, but she is reinventing herself at MTI.

She previously ran an MRI center, what she called a high-stress job that she no longer enjoyed.

“My kids are all grown, and I wanted to do something I wanted to do. You don’t want to be 45 years old and wake up one day saying, ‘I hate my job,’ ” Flo said.

She graduates in June from MTI. “I’ll find a job somewhere doing hair,” Flo said.

Yadira Miron and Derrick Olgara were Lakewood Ranch students attending MTI culinary classes. They were staffing another of the booths, talking up cooking and tossing stir-fried vegetables in a pan over an open flame.

“They like our food,” Yadira said. The aroma from the stir-fry was pulling kids to their table like an irresistible force.

Derrick said there are few things that make him happier than cooking for others and watching the satisfaction they get from eating his food.

And then there was Jessica Hagood, who is planning to become a high school teacher. What impressed me most about Jessica was not just her enthusiasm and the clarity of vision, but the way that she conveyed that she will be a wonderful teacher, brimming with confidence and competence.

If children are the future of this country, I saw lots of reasons for optimism. Some of these kids already have their plans A, B and C. Look out world, here they come.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.