Congratulations to all the new graduates – people New York Times columnist David Brooks calls “members of the most supervised generation in American history”. On one point alone, that could be true – the phrase “helicopter parent” did not exist in my childhood. Nor in the childhoods of my parents. Or their parents. Or any other generation in history.
Comedian Steve Martin illustrates this point when he tells the story of how he, at 11 years old, pedaled his bike two miles down the road to the new Disneyland, and successfully got a job paying $2 a day. Eleven years old. Pedaling a bike. Alone. No helmet. Getting a job. Getting paid.
Today, we don’t even allow 11 year olds to cut their own meat.
But we do allow you to graduate, and… then what?
I don’t have to tell you that you’re graduating into a changed world – you can feel it. Doesn’t it seem that so little in the world is certain? Back in great-grandpa’s day, it was enough to get through the eighth grade – and you could get a good job in the factory, couldn’t you? Working every day at the same job for years, then retiring with a pension.
That’s sure changed.
A year ago, unemployment in the United States stood at 9.6%. Currently, it’s 8.7%. In June of 2000, it was just 3.6%. [Don’t you wish you’d graduated then?]
The factory where your great-grandfather worked is shuttered. An eighth grade education won’t get you anywhere. Pensions went the way of the dinosaurs.
You’re graduating into a world where it’s likely you’ll stay in your first job about 3 years. And you’ll change jobs about that often from there on out. And your parents will wonder what’s wrong with you, and worry that you can’t keep a job.
Don’t be too hard on the dear helicopters. Your folks are just operating under the rules that worked for their generation.
Your generation is quite different.
Neil Howe and Bill Strauss built their careers studying the generational cycles of history. In fact, they’re the guys who named your generation “The Millennials”. Born from 1982 to 2005, you are quite different from the Baby Boomers. Where they had excess and protests and sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll, you’ll have something different – what it is, well… it’s not quite clear. Yet. Watch this fascinating video presentation from Dave Sohigian, which explains the generations and your place in the repeating cycle of life.
You’re a Hero generation, graduates, just like the men and women who formed The Greatest Generation (born about 80 years before you – 1901 to 1924). They fought World War II and built the suburbs. They faced enormous, unfathomable challenges, and a totally changed world. But out of that chaos, they created a new America. And, just like them, your generation will create something very important – something that will also change society in deep and profound ways.
How do I know?
You’re born to it. You’re Heroes. You just need to find the way to channel your heroism.
In Letters To A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke writes, “You are so young; you stand before beginnings. I would like to beg of you, dear friend, as well as I can, to have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign languages. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you to live the question.”
So, too, you – my young heroes. Your opportunity for leadership and courage and honor will come to you. It’s your birthright.
And we – the generations ahead of you – we’re depending on you, whether we’ll admit it or not.
Go out. Have experiences. All the experiences you can find. Make your way without supervision – finally. Most of all, live the questions. Because when you solve them – and you will – the world will thank you.