For those soon to graduate. You live in important times. The decisions you make will impact not just you, but those around you, their safety and prosperity, now and for decades to come.
This is the 1919 high school graduating class of Canon City, Colorado. Their education was also interrupted by an outbreak. That outbreak spared no social class, race, or nationality, but was especially devastating to those between the ages of 20 to 40, meaning these young men and women might have been called on to assist at the bedside of an older sister or brother, an aunt or uncle, or one or both of their parents.
Their generation raised families that survived the Great Depression, and fought in World War II. They knew illness and the frustration of inadequate medicine, and worked to improve insulin, antibiotics, and develop safer surgeries and blood transfusions. These young people were a testament to hardship and temporarily interrupted plans creating new pathways and opportunities, not excuses. Not justification for sliding by, or becoming cynical, or taking risks everyone knows are stupid, just because you want to impress your friends.
You may not think so right now, but you have actually been given a gift, a voice, a seat at the table. You will still need life experience, and you must, absolutely must, continue to learn, but the older folks will now, at least temporarily, and perhaps longer than temporarily, be a bit more willing to listen. Because they need your help. In the world of thinking they were close to perfection, nearing the top, with their mundane tasks performed by electronic devices and their movies and their music convincing them they were invincible, they forgot about the frailty and unpredictability of life on this planet. They forgot who was really in control.
Do not squander this opportunity. Do not waste the challenge in front of you, right there at your feet. Do not, ever, give in to despair, or worry about whether things are hopeless. I had the distinct honor a few years back of talking to an older woman who survived 30 hours trapped as a young girl on a truck converted into a school bus in a blinding spring snowstorm on the plains, the driver lost out in the blizzard seeking help, the bus without heat after the fuel tank ran dry. Her classmates around her were dying of the cold, icicles covering the inside of the vehicle as remaining survivors piled in a heap in the back of the truck, desperate to share body heat. The storm abated, the stranded somehow discovered, revived, nowhere near a decent hospital, far from the road.
The human organism, programmed to live, also defaults to comfort those in need. We are counting on you, on each and every one of you. You must not hate. You must search out those who are lost. You must never give up, no matter how dark or bitter or overwhelming the night. You must achieve success, or wear yourself out trying to succeed where we as a people failed. You must be more tolerant, more in tune with the environment, waste less time on frivolous things, and more willing to listen to opinions that differ from your own, perhaps even ignorant half-truths expressed in an unwanted tongue.
Our genetic material is 99.99% identical across countries and races and belief systems, and way more evolved that the insignificant scrap of garbage that is currently getting the best of us because we grew complacent. Your job from this day forward is to tolerate our shortcomings, our blind spots, but not allow our leaders to get complacent. If you are right, if the facts give you justification, if your background gives you particular insight, you need to stand up for what you believe, gain confidence in the sound of your voice, and not let more powerful individuals shout you down. Harmonize where you can, and where it makes sense, but remember if only perfect songbirds were allowed to sing, the world would be essentially devoid of song.