I attended the high school graduation ceremony at my step-granddaughter’s school last night and was struck by the shallowness of the message they received there.
The speeches could be summed up with the Army slogan, “Be All You Can Be.” Well, that’s very nice, but I can’t be the only one who misses the inspiring stuff like “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”
When I graduated in 1957, the message was laid on pretty thick that we were damned lucky to be living in a rich and free country. (That could have been some overkill because of the brewing Cold War events.) But the fact that we were expected to give back to society and make the world a better place than we found it was part of the air we breathed. At church, club meetings, even high school sororities and fraternities all taught us that “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
While I was in college, John Kennedy was elected and got the Peace Corps organized. It was the most natural thing in the world to want to sign up. Many people who couldn’t make the cut were incredibly disappointed.
No need to review the breakdown of the sense of community and belongingness that held us together and looking out for one another back then.
And I know we can’t blame today’s young people for being the product of an age of obsessive individualism. Neil Postman summed up our present state of affairs in “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business.”
I just think it’s sad that young people aren’t challenged to think beyond their own goals, plans and happiness any more.