Congratulations, graduates of 2019
No matter the weather, no matter what is happening, June is the best month.
It is a time of hope. A time to believe that the world can overcome its problems and become a better place.
That’s because June is graduation month. Tens of thousands of young people in Canada and the U.S. are graduating from various levels of education, many moving on to even higher levels. These are the graduates who will shape the future.
I am at a grad ceremony at Miramonte High School in the Oakland Hills outside San Francisco, and not far from where the Toronto Raptors have been embarrassing the Golden State Warriors.
Here 300 students are graduating from Grade 12 and entering a new, important stage of their lives. The grad class is so large that the ceremonies are being held on the school football field.
When I look into these bright and smiling 18-year-old faces I see hope for the future. These are kids who will not stand by and watch the breakdown of society as we – their parents and grandparents – have.
These are not teenagers typical of those of the past. Sure, they are teenagers who act like typical teenagers, but beneath their typicalness is a socially aware generation.
They are acutely aware of America’s gun insanity that has taken the lives of so many school students like themselves. (As of the start of this week there have been 23,543 shooting incidents in the U.S. in which 6,215 people were killed and 11,959 wounded, according to gunviolencearchive.org.)
They see the homeless living in cardboard shacks in underpass villages, and the thousands of people dying on the streets from drugs.
They see the growing devastation of climate change: Communities inundated by flood waters. Communities ripped apart by unprecedented wind storms. Over the last month or so more than 500 tornadoes have ripped apart areas in the U.S., a record number. Canada also is seeing an increasing number of extreme weather events.
Climate change has made wildfire outbreaks a serious threat to some Canadian and American communities. These California kids live with the knowledge that the neighbourhoods they grew up in could be destroyed by wildfires at any time. It is only early June but temperatures in the 100s are forecast here for this week.
This is a generation of kids who have paid attention to these increasing threats to our world. And, although they don’t talk openly (at least to adults) about them, they do take them seriously and do not see existing political systems fixing them.
Like many of us, they see growing political tribalism blocking solutions. Politicians bark party lines and slap down anyone who does not agree with them. Political parties have become more important and powerful than the people.
But most importantly, whether their high school years were lived in the Oakland Hills, Haliburton or Mississauga, today’s graduates are among a new generation of people who place inclusion ahead of exclusion.
They understand diversity and live it daily. They are well read (even if not on paper), are familiar an d comfortable with new technology and have a globalized view of life. They are driven more by values than status and material things.
They also understand and accept change, and unlike many of us, have no yearning for the way things used to be. They yearn for open societies, not walls.
Education has been a key in shaping who these young people are. Thankfully, increasing numbers of them are getting more education as high school graduation rates are increasing in many countries.
Canada’s high school graduation rate stands at 85 per cent, still far behind Korea, Japan and the Netherlands, but better than the U.S., Sweden and Italy. The U.S. high school graduation rate is roughly 84 per cent, up four per cent since 2011, a rise attributed to the Obama presidency’s focus on education.
So congratulations, graduates of 2019! Go out now and change a world burdened with problems that can be overcome with open minds and positive attitudes. You owe it to all those teachers, parents and others whose financial and moral support got you this far.
The world needs you.