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Dan Rodricks commentary: Class of 2022 has a chance to be the next Greatest Generation

Summary: 2022 graduates: We’ve had our chance. Now it’s yours. Save the country, save the planet, and you’ll go down as the next Greatest Generation.

Graduating seniors toss their caps high into the air following the Willmar High School Class of 2022 commencement ceremony at the Willmar Civic Center on Sunday, June 5, 2022.
Graduating seniors toss their caps high into the air following the Willmar High School Class of 2022 commencement ceremony at the Willmar Civic Center on Sunday, June 5, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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Dear graduates, Class of 2022:

I ask you to take a vow to do better than my generation did. All is not lost, but we are leaving you a big mess. I write today to wish you well, but also to apologize and ask you to commit to fixing things.

I know: You’re going to have your hands full just getting through college or getting a job. Being asked to shoulder the responsibility for fixing a country — that must sound pretty intimidating.

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But if you don’t take it on, there’s no telling what’s ahead, and if you don’t like uncertainty in your future, then you’ll have to be the generation that fixes things.

When I was in your shoes, no one spoke of climate change.

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There was violence around us, but not like we’ve seen in recent years, with horrible mass shootings, some of them in schools. I’m sorry the nation has not acted to make all of us, starting with children, safer from guns. But the severe political partisanship, the just-say-no to every effort at progress, is part of the big mess we’re leaving you.

There was always a political divide, but not with the searing bitterness and hostile tribalism like we have now.

Back in the day, Republicans and Democrats actually found ways to agree on some things — clean water, clean air, civil rights — and passed laws that made life better for millions.

People always complained about taxes, but the denigration of government was not as constant as it has been over the last 40 years.

We had protests, but no one ever invaded the Capitol or tried to reverse the results of a presidential election.

So, yeah, a big mess.

Your parents probably didn’t tell you this, and I don’t blame them. They want you to dream and believe that anything is possible in America.

But no matter what your dream — to own your own auto body shop, to be a doctor, to be a millionaire by the time you’re 25 — it won’t mean much if the world continues to heat up and America loses its democracy.

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On climate change, we’ve not done nearly enough. Scientists tell us we need to be off coal as a fuel within 30 years to avoid the catastrophic effects of the changing climate. We need to drastically reduce the amount of gasoline and oil we burn by the middle of the century.

Remember: It’s mostly your future now, not ours. For that reason, I’ve never understood why those of the baby boom generation and the generation just before it — people now grandparents and even great grandparents — voted for politicians who called the climate crisis a hoax.

That’s another thing: The denigration and dismissal of science. I’m not calling for the elimination of skepticism; skepticism is healthy. But let’s be reasonable: Those scientists in lab coats, who went to college and earned multiple degrees and who researched threats to human life, know more than the rest of us. Those who went into public health did so because they believe in its mission. They deserve our respect, not ridicule.

The pandemic revealed a nonsensical distrust of public health that did not exist when I was a kid and the adults lined us up for inoculations.

Your generation needs to make priorities of reason and the pursuit of truth.

You need to have some baseline agreement on facts — climate change is happening, and we’re the cause, for instance — and then act.

Be the generation that breaks from the crazy conspiracy theories that have seeped into the mainstream. There’s no time for it. There is serious work to be done.

A big part of that work is repairing and protecting our democracy. If you want to keep a representative system, with the right to vote, then you need to scream about partisan threats to voting rights and reverse those that have already occurred.

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To stop mass shootings — or, to get anything positive done, for that matter — we need to have legislators and members of Congress who are responsive to the people and not just lobbyists and billionaires.

There’s something else we need from your generation. We need you to be a restorative power. We need you to stand up for the ideals and principles that my generation and the ones before us considered the foundation of a civilized and progressive country.

I recently told graduates of McDaniel College that, in a cloudy, confusing and cynical world, there are still ideals we can list and describe: Character still counts, integrity counts, honesty counts, courage counts; selflessness is not the stuff of suckers and snowflakes, it’s the stuff of real community heroes; respect for truth and justice, decision-making based on facts and objective reality, care for the democracy and the common good, civility, decency, generosity, empathy — these are the traits of the good woman, the good man, the solid citizen, the moral leader, the salt of the earth.

I’m asking you to restore and champion those ideals by how you live your lives.

That’s a lot, I know. I’m sorry to put all this on you. I’m sorry about the state we’re in. But too much of the country’s leadership is engaged in nonsense while the planet heats up, while Americans large and small die in mass shootings, while our democracy faces threats.

We’ve had our chance. Now it’s yours. Save the country, save the planet, and you’ll go down as the next Greatest Generation.

Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks writes commentary on local, regional and national news.

©2022 The Baltimore Sun. Visit at baltimoresun.com . Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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