A letter to the Class of 2014
by Roger Hines
May 25, 2014 12:00 AM | 2408 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I’m guessing that most of you are 22 or so and that you’re leaving college in debt. You’re probably also anxious about finding work. You know the world is in strife, and like the old gray mare, the American economy ain’t what she used to be.

But hey, others before you, amidst all kinds of struggle, have gone on to do well. You can, too.

Jokes have been made about your generation’s trend of moving back into your parents’ basement. Don’t let it bother you. If you feel you must and your parents favor or allow it, do it; but only if (1) you can agree, without argument, to your parents’ stipulations and (2) you can get your mind off sex, drugs and rock ’n roll. Sex is for marriage (it is marriage), drugs are for doctors to prescribe and rock ’n roll is mostly OK until it’s time to think about more serious things.

Anyone who has been reading newspapers should be pulling for you. Economically these are still tough times. Socially, things are in flux. For instance, marriage is being further and further redefined, a man can “marry” a man, and the word “family” doesn’t quite mean what it meant even just four years ago when you started college.

Politically, judges (not voters) are setting the direction of the country, and governments everywhere at all levels know almost as much about you as your parents do.

So maybe you should just pursue sex, drugs and rock ’n roll after all. Nope. No excuses. Every 22-year-old who has gone before you has faced a world that wasn’t exactly hunky-dory. Many faced war and economic uncertainty that far surpassed that in which we now live.

Even though my advice is the easy-to-say “Be tough,” my heart really goes out to you. You and all other 20-somethings face a world more unsure of itself lately than it has been in at least a couple of decades.

My own bleakest prospect at age 22 — which I didn’t have to experience — was a Vietnam jungle. I have to say, however, jobs weren’t too hard to find back then.

Here’s a quick story that might give some perspective to the economic side of things. Fifteen years ago in a college classroom I stood before one of the hardest working classes I had ever taught. It was a quiet group of 30 or so — a dead serious bunch, most of whom had part time jobs. With no class clown to help provide levity, I simply acclimated to their seriousness but still found myself wishing they would lighten up and not take life so seriously.

In an oral presentation of an article from Kiplinger’s Magazine, a financial publication, one young man quoted directly from the article: “This year’s college graduates are the first generation that most likely will not do better than their parents.”

Even though the class members were freshmen and sophomores, their faces indicated concern. I, too, was taken aback by what the student had read. When he finished his report, I walked to the front and began to rant and rave.

“Do you think that writer understood basic economics?” I asked. “Don’t be discouraged by this article. The writer must think the economy drives people. The truth is people drive the economy.”

Trying further to alleviate the fears of such already serious young college students, I asked, “Who determines whether or not you will do better than your parents?”

Understanding and swallowing my drift, the class answered with relief, “We do!” But they were at least partially wrong and so was I. Yes, there was a time when individual initiative drove our economy, when regulatory law did not stifle and when government was friendly to the entrepreneur. The last 15 years have certainly not expanded such personal or economic liberty.

The last 15 years have also led neither to strengthened homes and trustworthy government, nor social stability.

But here’s the good news. Individuals, families, institutions, nations and entire civilizations can, do and have reversed course. Reformations still happen. A renaissance is always possible. Yes, you must find a job, but you must also cultivate the field of your immediate world so others — not just you — can experience a good life and enjoy freedom. We’re such close neighbors these days that what affects one of us affects all of us. It’s your turn to create a good neighborhood.

So, get a job, but create jobs. Read a book, but write a book. Vote, but run for office yourself. Raise a family, but check on your neighbors every week. Then you will be on your way to riches.

Roger Hines is a retired high school English teacher in Kennesaw.
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