Today’s graduates are a fresh wind in our world

The OlympianJune 4, 2014 

These kids of today. The Class of 2014 will graduate over the next week or so from our community’s high schools, South Puget Sound Community College, The Evergreen State College and Saint Martin’s University. Many of these kids started kindergarten just as terrorists were attacking America at the World Trade Center buildings.

Flash forward to their final year of high school or college, and we can already see their impact on our culture and way of life. These kids started the year wondering “What Does the Fox Say,” and they are the first generation to adopt the term “selfie.” The Class of 2014 has come of age despite the Boston Marathon bombing, the federal government shutdown and the tragicomic buzz of “Bieber fever.”

These kids of today have endured and thrived with a bewildering mixture of student achievement goals, requirements and tests. We removed the once all-important WASL test a few years ago, and we’re replacing it with new tests and with Common Core as the new educational standard. We hope our social and educational experiments have taught these kids to be flexible and adaptable, to go with the flow, and to navigate their environment with confidence and fortitude.

These kids of today have grown up with personal electronic devices that virtually connect them to friends and family. Instead of clogging phone lines with endless hours of chatter, they use Skype and texts and Twitter to broadcast their every thought. Edward Snowden, Google’s ubiquitous presence, and myriad electronic tablets, smart phones and cloud products have influenced their online lives.

These kids of today know distrust, apathy and disrespect for their government. The government shutdown showed them what happens when people dig in their heels, with dogma overriding the common good. But they have also witnessed progress: In their young lives, the Class of 2014 saw 17 states reject marriage discrimination laws and accept more diverse lifestyles.

The Class of 2014 will likely hear homilies about doing what they can to contribute and to speak up.

Madeleine Albright sums it up concisely with this advice: “Siri cannot tell you how to build a democracy. You cannot tweet your way to good governance. There is no app for inclusive economic growth. Humanity’s progress depends on human leadership … and our leaders’ job is harder than ever. What I’m saying, dear graduates, is that the world is a mess. I’m sorry, but it’s true. And now, it falls to your generation to solve the problems my generation is leaving behind.”

These kids of today, the Class of 2014, have grown up in a time of war, gridlock, and polarization; a time of astonishing technological change; and a time when we elected our nation’s first African-American president and made significant progress on human rights. They are a fresh wind in our world — original, bright, competent, and engaged.

Let’s celebrate their achievements and wish them success in the next stage of their lives.

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