These are momentous days in our household. This spring four of us are graduating — from grad school, from college, and the two youngest from Peninsula High School. I have mixed feelings about that last point as it suggests I am no longer young and hip myself. Where does the time go?
Since by some oversight I was not invited to give a speech at any graduations, I will use this space to address the young people who are donning their robes, caps and tassels, enduring interminable speeches, walking across platforms to the accolades of friends and family, and heading into the rest of their lives. The rest of you are welcome to listen in.
First, an apology is in order. The world you are inheriting is a mess, and much of it is our doing. I probably don’t need to tell you this, but I want to say it anyway. While the generations before you were yelling at you to clean up your rooms, we were ignoring the far greater messes around us.
We have known about climate change and pollution for decades. We have been confronted with the horrors of racial injustice and inequity for centuries. Yet all too often we have chosen the path of power and profit over the harder work of meaningful change.
Before you were born the Columbine massacre opened our eyes to the horrors of gun violence. That scene has repeated itself too many times throughout your youth, yet we have been unable to take even basic steps to protect you. It seems we prefer fear and self-preservation over any communal good.
We know the Covid years have been hard. We had an opportunity to step up in bold and compassionate ways but instead caved to division and denialism, forgoing the necessary work of caring well for each other and for you. The ongoing mental health crises you are experiencing is the direct result of adults choosing politics over your wellbeing. I’m sorry you pay the price for the failures of us older folks.
Thankfully, that’s not the whole story. The world is messy, but it is also beautiful, a place of wonder and glory, and you share it with many inspiring people.
We are surrounded by mountains, water, forests and beaches. We have lakes to swim and hiking trails leading us deep into nature. We have grassy ballfields, world-class concert halls and restaurants with cuisine from every corner of the globe. All this is right outside our front doors.
More importantly, there are still people investing their lives in creating a better world. I have the privilege of networking with all sorts of people, from government to nonprofit to industry. I am always encouraged when I see their creativity and passion set to the task of overcoming the problems we all face.
I meet policy makers drafting legislation to build healthier communities and trail workers keeping our natural spaces accessible. I meet healthcare workers and teachers who continue to show up despite the breakdown in our systems. I meet volunteers making sure people are clothed, housed and fed. I see so much goodness, and it gives me hope.
Here is my advice. The key to a resilient life is having a purpose, something that is meaningful and larger than yourself. Find your passion, find a way to serve, and you will discover strength to sustain you through the hardest of times.
Find good people. The trajectory of your life will depend on the people you surround yourself with. Find friends who encourage you and bring out the best in you, who make you laugh and build you up. Be that friend to others. Care for others, and fill your life with people who truly, deeply, care for you. Life is hard. We all need community around us to make it worthwhile.
Finally, this: We adults have done some nifty things, like landing on the moon and inventing Dippin’ Dots. But we have also created and sustained big messes that, unfortunately, will be yours to clean up. So get out there and change the world. We need you, and I believe in you.
Congratulations to our 2023 graduates. We’re proud of you and looking forward to all the ways you are going to make this a better world.
Award-winning columnist Dan Whitmarsh is pastor at Lakebay Community Church.
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