Eh, what’s wrong with these dern kids these days?!” (You have to try to imagine this in the voice of some cranky old person who just shoo’ed kids off of his front lawn.)
Wow. How many stereotypes can get packed into one sentence?
Actually, I would have to say that the answer to that original question is “not much.” And, in fact, a great many things are very right with kids these days.
I was drawn to this conclusion because of a special event I witnessed a couple weeks ago. The Arvada Rotary Club has a scholarship competition called “Speak Up,” and, for the past several years, they have invited a handful of high school seniors, chosen through an application process, to come and speak in front of a meeting of the Rotary. All of those chosen to speak already won scholarships, and two of the speakers for the evening won even larger scholarships.
This year, the theme of the event was “Engage Rotary, Change Lives,” and the students had to prepare a six- to eight-minute speech on that theme. Let me just stop you right there: how many of you, when you were 18, were comfortable delivering a 6 – 8 minute speech in front of your mirror, much less a room full of strangers? This is a daunting task for adults — so much more so for high school students.
And what I witnessed that night ran the gamut: there were students whose shyness was palpable, but did not deter them; there were students who were very focused on delivering exactly what the guidelines for the speech called for, and took care of business in a very professional manner; and, as always at such gatherings, there were a couple students who love the microphone and the stage, and took their turn to entertain the gathered crowd.
But, for their differences, there were a couple common threads that ran through all of the speeches: service, engagement, and the power of human connections. This assembly of student leaders, representing each of the four high schools in Arvada, demonstrated poise and courage just by speaking; but what they spoke of demonstrated that, at least with this group, the typical, selfish attitudes we assume of teenagers is simply not the norm. With this group — and I would love to think that they represent a large and growing segment of the youth population — the level of maturity and selflessness on display is such that many other generations would do well to study and emulate.
This has, actually, been my experience in most of my professional life, as well. Certainly, there are students who are not mature, whose worldview begins and ends in the mirror — but that can be said of a great many adults, also. But, by and large, I’ve always thought that teenagers, and particularly high school seniors, possess a wonderful mixture of hopefulness, naïvete, and energy, such that there truly isn’t much that they can’t accomplish if they all get moving in the same direction.
So, take heart: the leaders of the next generation are capable of things to rival any of their forebears. Get out of their way, and see what they can do!
And, yes, I was at this event because my daughter was one of the invited high school seniors. For the most part, she’s always been a lot more comfortable expressing herself through dance than through words, but, Sunshine, you were amazing! I am very proud of you!