Clippings: Memo to grads bridges generations

The year was 1971. It was late May and in Kansas, in those years, we graduated before the summer’s heat was too unbearable in classrooms without air conditioning. Graduation was that Saturday, and the night before I had been to one of those post ’60s senior parties. I woke up a bit late that next morning (some things don’t change), threw on my cap and gown, jumped on my brother’s Yamaha 175cc dirt bike, and shot off to the graduation ceremonies just in time to make the entry with classmates — with just a slight bit of chain grease on the gown.It’s not that I wasn’t a serious student or was not involved (I was vice-president of the senior class, co-editor of the paper, sports, etc.) that caused that morning’s tardiness; rather, I embraced the mantra of the era to “live in the moment.” And the more important moment, at the time, was the night before.Ah, yes, those were the days.I have little memory of that graduation ceremony 39 years ago. I’m sure speeches were made that encouraged me and my classmates to take on the challenges of the world, to reach within and draw out the best we had to offer, to sow good deeds and hopefully reap just rewards.It was our time to shine, we were likely told, and the world had great expectations of our generation and in our abilities. The speeches we will soon hear at area high schools from today’s graduates probably won’t be that different. But the times have certainly changed. Back then, the nation was still at war in Vietnam; the economy was facing growing inflation and job growth was anemic. We weren’t fighting terrorists, but the Cold War with the Soviet Union was full on and China, under Chairman Mao Zedong, was a growing power to be reckoned with vis-à-vis its influence in Southeast Asia. Plus, an India-Pakistani conflict flared up that summer, though that part of the world was mostly off our radars. President Richard Nixon had recently nixed the gold standard (as a way to make the dollar more competitive in world trade) and implemented wage and price controls in a move that put government as part of the economic solution — a liberal, almost progressive, stance compared to today’s politics and certainly not in line with today’s Republicans. In foreign affairs, then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger was preparing for a secret mission to China that July to set the stage for Nixon’s visit to China, which established the era for U.S.-Sino relations and prompted détente with the Soviet Union. It was also the year that Nixon declared war on cancer, which was just as the Watergate scandal hit the stage and began Nixon’s downfall, marking the first and only resignation of a U.S. president.There was, in short, plenty of controversy throughout the land and uncertain challenges to face. As I look back on those years and think of the challenges facing today’s graduating seniors, what’s striking is how similar the objectives are and how universal and timeless the goals appear to be.Graduating from high school has long served as that coming of age milestone. It’s when we, as kids, are expected to leave the roost, to strike out on our own, to go forth in the world and make our mark. Today, it is more important than ever to continue on to some form of higher education, but only because it gives graduates the tools they need to change the world in progressive ways that are today unpredictable.What’s common is that yearning to change the world is more exciting than daunting, and offers more hope than fear. It is to each year’s graduates to look out on the complex world and see solutions and paths forward with optimistic and creativity — and leave the fretting about how to make it all work at the end of the day to us older dogs who are too consumed in the nitty-gritty to have the imagination of our youth. So go forth with energy, excitement, optimism and the resolve needed to change the world — and enjoy the moment. Your time to fret will come soon enough.

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