Class of 2013 grew up with war, technology, social change

This week, communities and high schools celebrate another successful class of high school graduates. As with each graduating class, the class of 2013 is notable for its many scholastic, artistic and athletic accomplishments. But we should also recognize the profound historical events that occurred during their 12 years in school.

Significant events such as the Great Depression, World War II and the civil rights movement left indelible impressions on three different generations in America. These generations in turn helped define a nation and shape the world.

We wonder how some of the events that occurred since entering the first grade will impact the class of 2013.

This year’s seniors entered the first grade in the fall of 2001 when the deadliest terrorist attacks on American soil occurred. Sept. 11 changed our expectations of security and civil liberties. The threat of terrorist attacks continues to impact our day-to-day lives in ways both subtle and profound.

That year, we also entered into our continuing military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now considered two of the most expensive wars in U.S. history, the cost of these wars will play heavily into the future. Sadly, the class of 2013 has only known war and the terrible impact it has on families and communities.

In middle school, the families of the class of 2013 directly felt the Great Recession. Between 2007 and 2009, American households lost about $16 trillion in wealth associated with home values and investments. This month the Federal Bank of St. Louis reported that the average household has so far only recovered 45 percent of the wealth lost due to the effect of inflation.

During the course of their 12 years of schooling, our understanding of man’s contribution to climate change and global warming has defined a new crisis to be addressed. Weather-related events continue to challenge our ideas about our ability to destroy the world, as we know it, well beyond the existing threat of the atomic bomb.

The class of 2013 was born into information technology. While still in the middle school, they were exposed to Facebook in 2006. By March of 2013 the social media giant was home to 1.1 billion users.

Moreover, in 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone, ushering in an era of smartphones and mobile technology and tablets. In 2013, an estimated 56 percent of adults own a smartphone. By 2014 it is anticipated that mobile Internet usage will overtake the desktop, changing the way we exchange information and use technology.

Entering the eighth grade in 2008, the class of 2013 saw Barack Obama become the first African American elected president of the United States. He broke what many saw as the last racial barrier in American politics.

Finally, closer to home and in their final year of high school, the class of 2013 was witness to the legalization of both marijuana and same-sex marriages. These changes are leading the way for other states and countries to reverse long-standing laws, discrimination and taboos.

There is little doubt that these events will have an impression on the class of 2013. How they remember and incorporate what parents, teachers and communities did in response will shape their future, and ours.

As we celebrate the accomplishments of the class of 2013, we expect they will reshape the world based on the breadth of significant events experienced and witnessed by them over such a short period of time.