We couldn’t blame this spring’s crop of graduating seniors if many are pessimistic as they head out into the world. It’s often a grim and troubled planet outside the high school hallways. So perhaps the best gift we can give them in the graduation season is the hope and true belief that they can make a difference. Especially in a place like Platte County on the frontier of the metro area’s growth, there is opportunity.
When these seniors peeked at the news they saw chaos. American troops have been deployed to a war or troubled country somewhere in the world their entire lives. They’ve lived with the knowledge that an active shooter could invade a school anytime and anywhere, and almost annually they’ve seen such a horror on the news. Fatalistic movies about the end or near-end of the world have dominated at box office. Computer games, the hangout place of today’s young, are rife with violence glorified.
The politics of their parents and grandparents generations were contentious. But the disagreements seemed always held within an unshakable democracy upheld by rock solid institutions within governments and the courts. Now those places are battle grounds, too.
A recent story in The Kansas City Star discussed rising mental health issues among teens. Is it any wonder with so much uncertainty, in a world that moves faster all the time in the digital age that so many young people are troubled?
Maybe many in this crop of seniors tune out all the negative noise and simply revel in being young and moving on past high school. But I remember another uncertain time when the negative darkened the future.
I graduated high school when the Vietnam War had split our country politically. Environmental issues were front and center and not yet dealt with. Civil rights issues had begat riots and protests. The evening news held forth with crumbling corners of American normalcy. And the times they were a changing. A cultural divide split open in a fresh, raw wound, one that has not healed and has deepened into what splits national politics today. But back then, at the end of the post World War II victory glow, any split at all seemed shocking to both sides of cultural differences.
During that time, many young people felt hopeless and helpless about the future. The good side is that people did recognize problems existed. But the down side is that feeling hopeless and helpless does nothing to help the individual or society. Some people got to work on fixing problems. Others used despair as an excuse to burn out their lives with alcohol or drugs.
We need from these seniors those individuals who see challenges and ask what they can do to help create solutions.
Maybe this generation has an advantage. They expect uncertainty so it doesn’t surprise or scare. A chaotic world is normal to them. My generation started out in a peaceful world, one where incredibly puffy and naïve television gave us a false impression of what the future would be. But at the other extreme, I don’t think for these seniors the world will be is dire as the movies, video games and politics of their time portend.
Anita Gorman, the great civic leader from the Northland, once told me she was able to make a difference in Kansas City because it was still a relatively new city when she got involved in civic affairs in the early 1960s. Never underestimate her abilities and drive. But her observation was wise and well as modest. The city’s roots go back into the mid-1800s but the flowering as a major American city occurred in the 1900s. Gorman seized opportunities to improve fountains, health care, services for the poor, city parks and conservation. All this was accomplished by someone who knew in childhood the Great Depression and World War II.
Platte County’s position as a player in the metro is roughly only a half century old, starting with the opening of the Kansas City International Airport. Much of the county’s development remains to be carved out of the countryside. There will be many opportunities for the young to better their community.
Here’s hoping the class of 2019 is not discouraged. So much awaits those who walk the path of hope.