Hello Cape Breton Class of 2016,
The sun is coming out, and you will soon be leaving high school. The class before you was probably larger. The classes after you will probably be smaller. This has been happening for 40 years. It isn't new.
You will have a choice in front of you. Stay or leave. The choice may be easy. The choice may be hard.
Some of you might want to go to an oil patch to make more money than you ever could here. Some of you might go to a university in Halifax or Toronto, or some place even further away. A lot of you might not even know yet, and that's ok too.
I only ask one thing. If you feel that you have to go, if you feel like Cape Breton is holding you back, that you will never reach your full potential on our little island, do me one favor.
I do not say this out of spite. I do not say this out of a belief that you do not value this island. Your need to leave does not offend me, and I do not believe that you are part of the problem. I say this because leaving just may be the best decision you can make, for yourself and for Cape Breton.
You're young, and you've lived one place your entire life. If you feel the need to leave, there are only three possibilities in front of you.
1. You stay in Cape Breton and resent it for the rest of your life
Maybe you don't have the money to leave. Maybe you don't know how. Maybe there are too many anchors here holding you back. Whatever the reason, for the rest of your life, you could be asking yourself what could have been.
What if you left to play hockey? What if you went to the oil sands? What if you went to Toronto to dance on stage? There are too many "what if's" to list, and already too many platitudes regarding the perils of staying safe.
We have a way of finding targets for our own failures. Don't make this island one of yours.
2. You leave, and you make it
I could be totally wrong, and it could be Cape Breton that was holding you back this entire time. There's no denying that it's a rough go. The opportunities are few, and we are at the end of the world on our little island.
It's possible you could have never given the world what you have to give without leaving Cape Breton. That you needed a larger audience, a larger pond to make the impact you always had the potential to make.
I don't resent that. Nobody should. I'm not a big believer in fate, but I do believe the world is worth exploring, and there might just be a better place for you.
3. You leave, and then you come back
You might think this doesn't happen. Why would anybody come back after leaving? But I know why, because this is me. This is my family. This is my friends.
Almost everyone I know on Cape Breton Island ran away to some far-flung corner of the world. We had our adventures. We learned a lot. Then we came back.
If I never left this place, I wouldn't appreciate Cape Breton nearly as much as I do now. There is no group of people fighting harder to make Cape Breton work than those who have returned.
So what possibility applies to you? I have no idea. You don't either.
What is certain is that you're not at fault for 40 years of population decline. It's not up to you to stop the bleeding. Let no one make you feel guilty for a choice that is yours to make. At the end of the day, go if you have to go, stay if you want, and come back when you discover what you left behind.