Maybe it’s a generational thing. Each group worries about what kind of people will be leading us when the next generation assumes the mantle of power.
To be sure, I’ve wondered the same thing at times. Saggy pants, loud and arrogant tones of voice, music with lyrics I don’t derive any pleasure from. The list goes on.
But last weekend, I spent a day with about 50 teenagers that left me much more confidant that I will be well cared for in my old age.
Interact is a high school service club. The local clubs are organized by local Rotary clubs, like the one I belong to. On Saturday about 50 Interact club members from the greater Triangle gathered for a one-day conference in Raleigh.
Among those on hand were students from East Wake High, Clayton High, Corinth Holders, Wake Forest-Rolesville, Wakefield and several other schools. They spent the morning listening to speakers, both adults and teens, address a wide range of topics from leadership and ethics to how to run a good fundraiser and how to develop good community service projects that meet a need in their communities. They asked questions of each other, took note of good ideas and talked about ways they could replicate some of the good ideas they learned from others.
In the afternoon, they worked with Rotarians to prepare more than 50,000 donated books to be given away to nonprofit literacy groups. Standing around tables beside the adult Rotarians, they were every bit their equal.
As I sat and watched the teens that day, they were confident, polite and assertive. They ran the program and directed the morning events without much guidance from any adults.
What I learned from that experience is that, for every young person who has no manners or respect for authority, there are any number of children who do. And, not only that, there are some young people out there genuinely committed to making their little part of the world a better place.
That gives me reason for optimism for the future. Those young people still have plenty of room to stray from a good future. College will challenge them. Building careers and starting families will challenge them. But, somehow, I suspect the teenagers I met on Saturday are well prepared to take on those tasks and do well at all of them. I figure one day, I’ll be paying my taxes to one of them.
A principal friend of mine once told me he only needed one student in his school to really spark a difference among the entire student body. That person could, through sheer force of personality, engender a sense of pride and camaraderie among their fellow students to strive for bigger and better things. And in doing so, he said, the entire environment could change for the better, all without adults egging them on.
I think I met a bunch of those students on Saturday. And I rest comfortable in the knowledge that, one day, people of that caliber will be taking care of my generation.