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By Carol Stiffler

This is a message to the youth. Not that they want to be called youth. Hip readers? Budding adults? Are you listening?

You are from here. Whether or not you realize it, you are so lucky. I know it’s cold and the cold can be painful, but if you’re wearing a winter coat and your mittens, you’ve got this. Let’s not talk about the cold. Let’s talk about this big, beautiful peninsula with clean water and safe places and a real need for people like you.

For a long time, students in the Upper Peninsula have struggled to believe there are any opportunities for them here. We all want to make money and live decently, and it looks like that’s easier in a city. So for decades, almost every ambitious person who graduated from high school quickly left town.

That includes me. I headed to college, then made a short stop in Escanaba before bailing for Kansas City. Within a week there, I had two jobs. I could see no end in sight for my promising career. And that was true – I could have done anything in Kansas City. I worked hard and I did well.

It’s also true, though, that there were a lot of Carols in Kansas City. There were a lot of hardworking young women who were excellent at their jobs. I blended in. When I left Kansas City, I was quickly replaced.

The difference is this: If you bring your skills back home, you will not blend in. In the Upper Peninsula, with its aging population and endless opportunities, you will be a rock star. A. Rock. Star.

Did you master technology skills? Health care? Manufacturing? Accounting? Business management? Online marketing?

Who else here can do what you can do? You might be able to come home and pioneer a new business that will fill a gap. Or you could step into an existing business whose owner wants to retire – that’s what happened for me. The Newberry News literally would have stopped existing. This has already happened in other local businesses. They’ve simply shut down because it was time for retirement and there was no one to step in.

It is completely inaccurate to believe there are no opportunities here. Find your job or make your job. Whatever it is, you can do it here.

Even more, if you come home, you will be in the place you are from. Once you leave, you will know how good that feels. Home is home. The rest of the world is exciting, too, but home is what made you. Something in you will always notice how you feel here.

It will take courage. You have to trust this place where you are from and know that we will be so glad to have you back.

So go. Get an education, or learn a skill. Do something big. Live big. And then please come back home, where we will be in awe of what you can bring to the table.