I’ve heard murmurings around the ol’ campfire lately about the “brain drain” of Wyoming’s youth as our kids emigrate across our square border seeking greener pastures after high school. But then, when have we not heard folks moan about this diaspora?
The phenomenon is spoken of as if it is the death knell for all things Brown & Gold. Hogwash!
As a young Outlaw from Rawlins, my feet were as itchy as anyone’s when I came of age and realized that the world around me was rather biggish and interesting to boot. My wanderlust became evident before I even graduated from RHS, and my Dad took notice.
He told me once, “Son, your roots are as deep as anyone’s, but they’re a good bit stretchier." This from a working cowboy who dropped out of UW to spend a few years in the jungles of New Guinea, eating coconuts and kangaroo while battling the Empire of Japan.
Throughout my life, my itchy feet have often taken me out into the Great Elsewhere, but my roots have always tugged me back home. In fact, my eldest son Tom was born in Italy, but he lives in Wyoming now with his family.
So I have little patience with those who want to build a wall around Wyoming to keep our kids from straying. That sounds too much like a gulag or a concentration camp built to house malcontents.
That said, I have no bellyache with wanting to make the Cowboy State an attractive place where young folks would like to spend their lives. All societies want to do that so that they don’t atrophy, and Wyoming does as good a job as any.
But the simple fact remains that humans, since we crawled out of Africa, have been moving and migrating across the round back of Earth in search of food, resources, power or just something cool to do.
When our young cowgirls and cowboys hanker to stretch their legs and see what lies on the other side of yonder ridge, we should encourage ‘em. We should pack ‘em a lunch and let ‘em know they’ll always have a home to come back to.
If they are smart enough to score a scholarship to study at MIT, or are tough enough to play football for Alabama, we need to wipe our eyes and wish ‘em Godspeed.
The worst thing we could do would be to discourage their growth by telling ‘em they should stay here, learn to weld and go to work in the oil patch. There’ll be plenty of kids who want to do just that, and good on ‘em.
But the young’uns who have more potential, more curiosity, more knot-headedness would wither on the vine if we didn’t cut the apron strings. Those are the kids we should shoo down the road with a loving admonition not to forget where they come from.
There exists some irrational jingoistic fear in Wyoming that, if our young people leave, they’ll pick up strange intellectual cooties from “out there."
Folks fret that their kiddos will absorb foreign beatnik “librul” notions, that they’ll let their hair grow and learn to surf.
That, to me, is evidence that we don’t trust how we’ve raised ‘em. We should rather consider them youthful ambassadors evangelizing the core western values that they were taught at home. After all, “the world needs more cowboys”, and Wyoming is sending ‘em out into the world.
Sure as hell, they’ll return home with some new-fangled ideas that will set their elders teeth on edge. It takes us in Wyoming a long time to accept new ideas, but we end up better off for accepting them. I’ll offer barbed wire and crossbred cattle as cases in point.
There’s nothing wrong with a “brain drain” as long as the brains come back home and help improve the place they grew up. Here endeth the lesson.
Rod Miller can be reached at: email@example.com