To the Graduating Class of 2018


Photo courtesy of Mr. Charles Henderson

by Mr. Charles Henderson

To the Graduating Class of 2018,

It has been forty-five years since I graduated from high school in 1973. A lot has changed. Cell phones did not exist; my family had a single phone in the living room, which made those 11th grade conversations with girls very difficult. No cell phones meant no text messaging; we had to communicate with each other in school by passing notes in class, often intercepted by a teacher and read aloud (I lost my first girlfriend that way). There was no internet, which was OK because computers were the size of classrooms and cost millions of dollars. We did have TV, thank goodness, but ours was black and white, received three stations, and changing the channel or volume meant taking a hike across the room. No microwaves, no DVDs, no calculators. The only video game was Pong. Movie theaters had one screen, coffee was percolated, and girls painted their own fingers and toes.

A lot has changed in the last forty-five years, as it will in the next forty-five. Imagine what you would write in a letter to the Class of 2063. What would you tell them about life in 2018 that would illustrate how primitive things are now? It might be something like this: “In 2018 we all carried around these little rectangular boxes that we stared at constantly, our entire lives were in them. We stuck wires in our ears to listen to music and our primary means of communication was with our thumbs. We had to manually drive our cars and it took both hands and feet to do it, which didn’t really help because they crashed all the time anyway. For fuel, cars ran on the liquefied remains of dead dinosaurs. Our TV’s were skinny boxes stuck on the wall that only had 500 channels and you couldn’t smell, taste or touch the programs.”

Technology changes many things from generation to generation but some very important things have not changed. In 1973 we were embroiled in an unpopular war in a tiny Asian nation; as we are today. In 1973 we had a higher percentage of Americans and minorities in jail than any other developed nation; as we do today. In 1973 we were damaging the environment faster than it could heal itself; as we are today. In 1973, too many people lived in poverty, had limited access to health care, and went to bed hungry; as they do today. In 1973, our government ran huge deficits and our politicians lacked the courage and conviction to balance the budget; as they do today. In 1973, basic civil rights were denied to many; as they are today.

I challenge you to do a better job than we did. I challenge you to be the generation that…

… wages peace not war; this does not mean be weak, it means be strong and smart, with the objective of real peace, not just the image of peace for the sake of economic dominance.

… stops poisoning the environment; not with more rules and regulations that stifle the economy, but by restructuring the economy so that doing the profitable thing requires doing the right thing.

… ends poverty and hunger in the wealthiest nation on earth; not by proliferating a welfare state, but by attacking the ignorance, chronic disease and poor nutrition that drive the cycles of poverty and crime in America.

… permanently ends deficit spending and frees our country from its crippling debt. That doesn’t mean just cut spending. It means restructure our spending, taxes, subsidies, exemptions, loopholes and benefits so that hard work and innovation are rewarded, safety and security are universal, and a prosperous legacy is left for future generations.

… guarantees true civil rights to all, not by infrequently punishing the worst offenders, but by adopting universal attitudes of acceptance and tolerance that finally deliver on the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Solve even some of these problems and your generation will have accomplished more than any that came before you. You have the means; you have the opportunity, you only require the determination to act. Now, consider again that letter you are going to write in 2063. Will it be truly inspirational or just a collection of funny stories? Will you write about meaningless technological wizardry or will you write about how you changed history?

Yours truly,

The Graduating Class of 1973

P. S. We will be watching!