This Saturday, my oldest nephew, Carson, graduates from college. Twenty-eight years ago to the day, I graduated from the same university. As I think about the last twenty-eight years, I realize how many things have changed and how many ways life has improved, despite our challenges.
On the challenging front, the world has become less safe. Terrorists have threatened our liberties and the nature of airline travel has changed forever. Many schools which were once safe havens have advanced security systems and students who are trained in how to respond in the face of an attack. Cars, cigarettes and fast food are now prevalent in countries where people used to bike, eat healthy and have low rates of heart disease and diabetes. Even here in America, we have high levels of childhood obesity and diabetes. Young adults today have gone to college in a recession and they are required to be creative, resilient and resourceful.
On the side of opportunity, the world is connected with cell phones, iPads and iPods and the internet. People are learning across borders and boundaries like they never have before; technology is allowing the poorest people from the most remote provinces the same chance to learn as the people from the wealthiest gated community. Countries like India and China have emerged from poverty and strife into thriving, standard setting models of learning, technology and business. Electric cars and wind-powered turbines are helping us to think differently about electricity, sustainability and energy. Ingenuity is alive and well, fostered by difficult economic conditions. We’ve made huge strides in AIDs research and treatments and some types of cancer though we are still struggling with many other diseases.
What will my nephew look back on in 2040 when he has been out of college for twenty-eight years? How many advances in science, technology and medicine will students graduating today create? Who will be the next Steve Jobs? The next Bill Gates? The next Mark Zuckerburg? The next Ariana Huffington? The next Oprah? The next Hillary? What ideas will define the next several decades? Which ideas will have the impact of an iPhone, a PlayStation, Xbox, YouTube, LinkedIn?
Certainly nanotechnology, more energy and fuel efficient ways of living, education for all, an end to poverty, a peaceful way to negotiate legal and business issues across cultures and borders, a stronger connection with and awareness of people from around the world, a fierce commitment to solving some of the world’s biggest problems and innovating in the most unexpected ways.
Most of all, if my nephew and his friends are any indication, I will hold that this year’s graduating college class will have the spirit and the wherewithal to make the most out of themselves, tackle the world’s most pressing problems and make the world a more healthy, imaginative, generous and safe place through their dignity, courage, tenacity and decency.