To the graduates of 2016, let me be the first to welcome you into the world of adulthood.
From the moment you entered preschool, your teachers started the transformation process.
They took young toddlers full of spirit and energy and molded and guided them into the young men and women you are today.
In preschool, you learned to sit criss-cross applesauce. You learned to stand in line with your finger pressed to your lips. More importantly, you learned to raise your hand when you had a question or needed to go to the bathroom.
In elementary school, you learned to sit in your desk, write within the lines and not talk to your neighbors.
In the upper grades, they gave you your own locker and a new set of responsibilities to keep up with your stuff.
Fourteen years later, those toddlers from preschool must seem so small and so far away, now replaced by young adults.
As someone who barely remembers his kindergarten days, let me be the first to say -- don't forget what it was like when you were that little tyke. Don't forget those days when you delighted in nearly everything in life. Remember those times when you and your friends laughed hilariously and didn't care if you were making fools of yourselves.
After so many years of teachers and parents telling you how you should be, now is the time to stop and listen to the voice inside of you to determine who you should be -- who you want to be.
That voice was there in that little toddler 14 years ago. It is still there today. So listen for it.
It is not a very easy thing to do. I know. I heeded the voices of others who nudged me away from a career in photography to a more lucrative, more prestigious career as an architect.
Sixteen years ago today, that shy architect with a camera walked into the basement of St. Mary Basilica wondering if he was making a mistake -- worried that he was making a fool of himself.
Thankfully, few people knew who I was in that whirlwind of green caps and gowns. No one in the room knew that I had decided to leave an entire career behind for a shot at a dream. No one knew, not even me, that the first tentative shot of two students adjusting their caps would lead to many years behind the camera and in front of a computer screen working for The Natchez Democrat.
Looking back, I realize there were many times in the past 16 years when I acted like a fool, scrambling on the floor or hanging from chandeliers looking for the perfect angle for just the right storytelling shot.
Instead of settling for a simple photo taken at eye level, I searched for a different viewpoint -- a new perspective.
I was having a blast living in the moment and capturing it for local newspaper readers to see.
Don't be mistaken. Following your dreams and listening to your own voice over others doesn't mean there will not be sacrifices. It doesn't mean the work will not be hard, and it doesn't guarantee that you won't make a fool out of yourself.
But it will be fun. It will be your own. It will be worth it.
Ben Hillyer, the news editor of The Natchez Democrat, can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.