Dear graduating class of 2020:
I envy you.
The proper way to express this feeling is “I am envious of you”, but addressing the day and age we live in, I am choosing to express my feeling in a blunter way.
Now you might ask “why is a mid-Generation X, middle class home-owning father who is happily married be envious of us?”
Here is my answer: because your efforts and your abilities are going to be seen by generations after you as “great”. The last time a generation of Americans have experienced what you are experiencing now was somewhere north of 70 years ago, with people of that generation being labeled, rightly as “the greatest generation”.
Some of them experienced a pandemic, a depression, and even war, all back to back. They persevered and even thrived at times when the certainty of our freedom, our ability to make a buck or even keeping our families safe was highly in doubt.
Today, many of the same worries they had then are the worries that we all have now. And I think we are learning as we go through lockdowns, an uncertainty of our future and worry of our family, similar to that of what that generation felt.
And just like that generation, despite it all, there was a higher calling, a esprit de corps if you will, that calls out the fear, and demands that we, as a society press forward despite it. Queue in the now-popular hashtag “ALL IN THIS TOGETHER”.
This graduation season demonstrates that spirit, with emphasis. So, if there is a congratulations that needs to be expressed, it is the fact that you have not only persevered when the world was changing in front of you, but you kept on, achieving this life goal.
My envy also comes from the fact that not only are you able to persevere, but you are entering a world where you can make a meaningful impact. That impact, I challenge you, is that of leadership. Let me explain.
As you have been going through your academic work, you grew up watching your parents tune into the evening news and have probably seen how leadership in this country has behaved. Instead of seeing more problem solving with peers, like you were taught in over the last several years during your classes, you saw the binary polarization of “I am right, you are wrong”.
I am here to tell you though, because of what is happening now, this binary thinking is about to become passé. Think of how Instagram has become irrelevant to you because of Snapchat and Tik Tok. You will be anxious to attach to a new way of thinking, and that philosophy will come and take its place.
And I think, because of your unique position and experiences so far, you might have the answer.
You see, guys like me and those in my “age bracket,” need to learn, once again, the idea that we are now being told daily…that we are all in this together. Doing anything together requires one trait that we older people seem to have lost – the ability to be flexible and compromise for the greater good.
Up until now, we thought it was better to be polarized, uncompromising, never yielding even a minor point to the other side. We forgot how to debate, to refresh our intelligence with the knowledge of others, to be respectful for other points of view.
While our country might have lost the ability to work together, you are, instead, doing it right now. And you will get better at it every single day we are in this episode of life. This experience will come in handy when we need to find people who are collaborators to deal with the sticky issues that will be left over after the fear of COVID-19 has subsided.
Beyond that, to initiate any “reimagining” of our world – we will also need collaboration. We will need to figure out what “all in this together” means when it comes to addressing even bigger concerns – ecological challenge, native people’s challenges and identifying who we are and what we want to be.
So, the challenge is out there, the need is out there. This challenge has been laid at the feet of older generations, and even mine. But you are the one that has the best chance to fulfill that challenge and change the world.
Again, I envy you! And wish you the best as you take this challenge up. I know that you can do it, because your already doing it. The pathway that is your future is brightly lit like the sun on the beach of Waikiki that we have just gotten the “approval” to visit again.
To conclude, I’d like to leave you with a thought from a famous essay that defined the 1997 graduation year – the year I got my Bachelor of Arts – with the advice given then. It’s relevant now as it was then.