Good afternoon everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here again offering my heartfelt congratulations to our next generation of leaders.
Having done this for a few years now, I’ve been asking myself, what can I say to this year’s class that might be different from things I’ve said to others in the past.
As I was processing this, I acknowledged that some things do remain true year after year, and they are worth repeating. I’ve said that hard work pays off, and that’s still true. I’ve said that you are blessed to be living in a community that is growing rapidly and has a wealth of opportunities to build a life in; that this is a beautiful, productive place to build a family. And that is still true. I’ve also said that no matter what your interest is, whether you plan to go to a 4-year college, or a trade school, or go straight into the work force, there’s a place for you right here and a need for your skills and your contribution. I see the truth in all those things all around me in this community. And they are still an important piece of my message. You really can build a great life right here, and this community looks forward to your contribution. You are the future leaders and I believe this county will be in good hands.
Part of my job as County Supervisor is to make sure that this community will continue to flourish and produce new jobs, and offer good healthcare, and strong infrastructure, and good schooling. To do that, I spend a lot of time in meetings with leaders in all professions, and different branches of government to discuss things that we need to do now to make life better for you and your children in the future. I also collect the ideas and concerns of the residents with the goal of learning what the people of this community feel we need to do to keep making it better. I go out and talk to them, I learn about their lives, their struggles, what’s important to them, what they worry about, what they would like to see changed or improved.
In doing this over his past year, I’ve been stricken at the number of times I’ve heard the same concerns coming up over and over again, whether it was in a boardroom meeting with leaders in healthcare or education, or whether it was the heads of social groups or construction companies, or whether I was standing at the front door of your house, talking with your parents. Rich or poor, black or white, sick or healthy… I kept hearing the same thing. From all walks of life, and from all areas of government. The One Thing that stood out as a shared concern by everyone is what’s happening to our culture: school culture, social culture, workplace culture, even family culture. How we are treating each other as people, as Americans, as neighbours. Sure, some mentioned the economy, and others the cost of healthcare. Yes, many care about fixing our roads and bridges, and making college more affordable. But the words bullying, violence, hate, anger, inequality, unfairness, abuse, suicide, drug abuse, human rights, guns… those were things that seem to weight most heavily on the minds of everyone I’ve talked to.
Looking at you today, I fully recognize that I’m talking to the generation that was born into this culture. You didn’t cause it and you’ve never really known the world any other way. That’s why this message is so important today.
The first thing I want you to know is that it wasn’t always like this. As recently as 25 years ago, we lived in relative peace and harmony. The statistics on all the categories I just mentioned were far less ominous. And it doesn’t have to continue to be this way.
This may seem like a heavy burden on you: to correct something you didn’t cause, but that is how history has always played out. It’s the young people who bravely rise up and offer a better way when things start to go awry. It is your fresh, vibrant voices that will dictate the future.
You can be the generation of Kindness, of Empathy, of Acceptance, and Inclusion. You can be the generation that will practice your own faith peacefully, and leave others to practice theirs with just as much respect. The generation that denounces bullying, humiliating, or shaming others. The generation that denounces every kind of violence.
You can bring the wave of change beyond the halls of this school, into the college halls or workforce with you. And even at home.
As one of your current community leaders, I invite and welcome your ideas, so that we can work together to bring change now. I want to hear what you, my successors, have to say, because it is your ideas and leadership that will have the most influence. You and your children and grandchildren deserve a better world, a world as good as you can imagine it. But to create that better world, we each have to be better as individuals and collectively, together. Once we can count on each other to do that, and then stand together in that message, we have a real chance at making real change. Remember, this future is for you, for your children, for your grandchildren. The time to change it is now.
God bless you.