By Dominic & Kenda Lawson
Let’s be honest class, the second half of your senior year did not go as planned. A global pandemic disrupted senior festivities like prom and senior trips for those in high school and my college seniors were deprived of that last walk of their college campus as students. No hanging out at the university center and going around shaking the hands of your professors, soon to be colleagues in your many fields of endeavor; however, you didn’t let that deter from the plan. You continued to do the work. You logged in to continue classwork from your kitchen table, your front porch if you wanted a little fresh air, and- let’s be honest- many days you probably never made it out of bed (we were there once, we get it). But you stayed engaged and that’s why we love your generation. During one of the most uncertain times in our planet’s history, you stayed the course and only reaffirmed what we have believed for a long time: you are the next great generation.
Just like the first great generation that battled the Great Depression and fascism during World War II, you stood up and answered the bell. Every. Single. Time. When the unfortunate events in Parkland, FL. unfolded, you answered the call and demanded change around the country, confronting my generation and the generations before about gun control. On the world stage, you have never been shy about speaking on significant issues and one of you became a Nobel Laurette while fighting for the education rights of girls in Pakistan, and another became the Times person of the year for advocating for us to change our stance on climate. And in both of those examples, you again showed how far we’ve come by rallying behind young women.
These are just a few of the reasons we believe that:
No generation is smarter than you.
No generation is more creative than you.
No generation is more vocal than you.
(and our favorite)
No generation has demanded authenticity the way you have. Yes, in a world full of hashtags and filters, you demand authenticity in the change you seek.
Class of 2020, while many will challenge you this season to do your best and take risks, there is one challenge we must task you with. It is a problem that we are confident you are creative enough to figure out and strong enough to achieve.
Class, let’s just come right out and say it: There are bullies out there in the world. You would think that since we all learned the golden rule in grade school bullying wouldn't be a problem once you reached this point in your life, but the sad reality is that we’ve allowed bullies to go unchallenged and to have their voices amplified. These bullies prey upon people for many reasons. They may take issue with how some people look, look down upon those who pray to God differently or presume to tell others who to love. Some take issue with the mistakes that people paid for with their time and even those that bestow upon themselves the power to act as judge, jury, and executioner.
There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone’s life choices. There is a place in this world for civil discourse. Bullies go beyond this, using their voice as a weapon to empower others to take irreparable, inhumane actions. Many may think the rise of these bullies is due to certain elected officials or political factions. While that may play a part, we as a society have forgotten that people, even those in these groups, are human before any other statistic or a demographic. We have forgotten that each of us deserves a path to achieve greatness. While it is an evident truth that this path is a well-paved street for some, it’s a dirt road for others, or for an intrepid few a path they must forge for themselves. Regardless, young people, greatness is molded during times like these, and the world needs heroes.
Now am we’re not asking you to go around beating people up…of course not. In doing so you would become just another person so convinced that they are justified that they act unjustly. So, don't focus on defeating the person you see as the enemy. Instead, defend the helpless. Remember that you don't need to be an elected official or a caped crusader to achieve this. All you have to do is to use the skills, knowledge, and training that we are honoring to serve humankind as well as yourselves. Do as Khalid Latif once said, “Don’t hold back what it is that you have the unique ability to offer.” If you are gifted in tech, help us bridge the digital divide we have. If you are a future educator, remember that your classroom extends beyond your classroom. And…if you are going into healthcare, you have our permission to fight and fight hard when it comes to diseases like Covid-19. Yeah, beat the brakes off of Covid-19.
Now to the rest of you who may ask, “What can I do?” The first thing you can do is to be a mentor. There are many kids that do not get to witness the level of success you are experiencing right now. Light the way for them to see themselves in you and remind them that the journey they are on does not have to be defined by where they are now. Also, whenever you see injustices in the world speak up; you don't need a degree or a special certification to do that. All it takes is a loving heart and a willingness to be vulnerable. Sometimes it will be just you out there on that ledge all alone, but it’s okay. You were built for this.
So, Class of 2020, there are many obstacles ahead. The road will be daunting and oftentimes lonely. Unfortunately, the world must ask huge, improbable things of you: To repair a damaged planet, to protect mankind from viruses and violence, and to right centuries of wrongs, ensuring that all have equitable access to education, wealth, and justice. (That’s not too much is it?) Have no doubt, we know what we are asking. As the next great generation, you have the tools you need to be successful. You have been honing them since your very first day of school. Now, you must put them into action. Remember: not everyone is built to be there with you. Some, unfortunately, may become adversaries. However, there has never been a superhero who didn't face adversity before their true power emerged. Maybe you don't see it just yet but know that we see it in you.
Be Kind. Be Tough. Lead The Way.
We are all counting on you.
Congratulations, Class of 2020!