Last week, several thousand of our newest residents moved to town. Many have never lived here, aren’t familiar with the city, will hesitate at stoplights or turn-lane-only areas, and will make our wait at restaurants longer. Let’s be patient and thankful for all of it. They make cash registers ring, will become your employees and many will never leave this city. That is Stephenville’s ‘secret sauce’ for growth.

Ultimately, they will become home owners, business leaders and elected officials. They will transition  from energetic and eager young adults to seasoned, experienced contributors to our community.

For many, this is a journey never taken by others in their family. In fact, 52% of these students are first-generation college attendees. Thanks to the efforts of faculty, staff and other resources, freshman retention rates are at an all-time high. Earned degrees are up more than 58% over the last 5 years and the regional economic impact has exceeded $512 million. These are significant numbers, and help set the stage for continued prosperity in our area. Some of these students will choose to start – or start over – as they enter a two-year program geared toward specific skills. There is great excitement that comes from the enhancement of knowledge no matter what pathway one might take post-graduation.

Let’s not forget our other students, either! More than 3,600 public school kiddos are back ready to take on new experiences in education. We all recall the special memories made in and out of the classroom as youngsters, and one can probably see how each of these steps along our walk led to who we are today. New clothes and book bags, matching shoes (maybe) and trendy lunch boxes often dominate conversation, as do jeans that are actually meant to have holes or rips in them. In the coming days, talks will have a more academic tone as the education process takes flight.

For now, however, I want to encourage you to be kind and helpful and patient. Our schools weave together a beautifully young and diverse community that many other places would do anything to become. As we strive to grow as a community of excellence, let’s not forget that this effort can only be enhanced by the men and women – and boys and girls – within our education system.

Faculty, staff and others involved in the learning industry deserve not only our patience, but our thanks.

Jeff K. Sandford, IOM is the Executive Director of the Stephenville Economic Development Authority. He is also a husband and father of 3 kids, most with matching shoes.