Rollie column

Rollie Atkinson

The students of the Class of 2020 will be marked and followed through history (their future) in forever terms, like the previous American generations of The Great Depression, World War II and the counterculture of the 1960s.

Today’s graduates were born when the world was still recoiling from the 9/11 terrorism attacks. As they advanced from elementary to middle and to high school, they repeated annual “active shooter drills” through two decades marred by school killings at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Parkland and dozens of others. Their schools became emergency shelters during the Tubbs and Kincade wildfires and during the 2019 Russian River flood. The Class of 2020’s unwanted lessons were about survival and grieving. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

We salute these students’ (and their parents’) gritty spirits, witnessed at the many local drive-thru, videotaped and Zoomed graduation ceremonies. Caps and gowns were proudly worn and the community-wide tributes seemed bigger and more heartfelt than in more normal times.

The stolen moments of traditional Pomp and Circumstance processions,  “Go forth in the world” valedictorian addresses and final co-student hugs and tears are not the least of these students’ lost opportunities. But they may not compare to what the Class of 2020 must face next. They must now “go forth” into a world where attending a college, finding a job and staying healthy are all uncertainties due to the double blow of a public health emergency and a mounting economic crisis.

But this too shall pass, as we learned from the older generations mentioned above. When we study these histories we see that much greatness has sprung from great tragedies. The Class of 1950 was born during the darkest days of the Great Depression and made personal sacrifices during WW II. Their labor, patriotism and productivity built a world power and a bright beacon of modern democracy. Where Depression-era shanty towns once stood, they built suburban comfort and an affluent middle class. They cured smallpox and many other diseases. In California they established one of the greatest free public university systems since Roman or Greek times.

The Class of 1970 was born under a televised atomic mushroom cloud and years of homeland violence during the Civil Rights unrest and protests. They grew up as flower children, future biochemists, inventors of computers and ushered us all into a new age of thinking (environmentalism, Eastern religions, holistic wellness) and possibilities (space travel, solar power, gender equality.)  

Where will the Class of 2020 take us? Right now they face the same frightening prospects that marked the gloomiest days of other economic disasters and social upheavals. But we believe they will soon find their own greatness.

The more these young learners follow their own dreams and ambitions and shed off today’s morass of miserable role models, economic disparities and uncivil communication, the sooner we will all be living in a better world. “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come,” reads Proverb 31:25 from the Bible.

The COVID-19 pandemic has robbed all of us of more than just graduation ceremonies. It has unsheathed our failures of planetary stewardship, economic justice and our spirituality. Class of 2020, please go and find us another way.

Not able to gather at Class of 2020 ceremonies and hear great speeches, we offer the following two snippets:

“My advice is that if you must be selfish, be wisely selfish. Wise people serve others sincerely, putting the needs of others above their own. Ultimately you will be happier. The kind of selfishness that provokes fighting, killing, stealing, using harsh words, forgetting other people’s welfare will only result in your own loss.” — The 14th Dalai Lama.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” – Albert Einstein.

God speed to all members of the Class of 2020.

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(1) comment

Tony Bryhan

It seems ironic that the children of the flower power generation became the MBA’s and lawyers (rather than engineers and doers) that brought neo-liberalism to prominence.

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