All good things must come to an end. And, with a little luck, this column might be counted as a good thing. But there is a final farewell to be had, as I part ways with St. Louis to explore one of the areas in which Webster excels: study abroad.
And in my absence, the capable hands and nimble fingers of Tim Doty, opinions editor, will surely fill this space weekly with some words well worth the read.
But there are a few inches and a few hundred words left, and silly is the man who wastes too much time on himself. There won’t be self-involved deviations on anyone running for president or any clever in-character soliloquies.
The majority of you reading are young, fresh-faced 20-somethings. You’re the next big thing, as it were. You know those assholes that run the country? That’ll be us someday. Sometimes it’s hard to get excited about the future. Everything seems to go downhill at some point. After spending two decades learning how to be students, we promptly graduate, only to never apply many of those skills ever again.
And then comes debt. Student loans that would’ve made our grandparents break down and weep. You won’t be a professional athlete or a princess one day, and who knows what you’ll inherit.
All anybody who asks for my vote or my viewership talks about these days is apocalyptic. There’s a hanging cloud, an impending blackness of some kind. The Earth will be trashed, fossil fuel wasted by shortsighted baby boomers and their monstrous, oil-tanker Cadillacs.
We won’t collect the Social Security we’ve been doling out the greenbacks for and the entire nation is crumbling from foreign competition and debt. It’s midnight in America and the sun is hours away, shining over another hemisphere somewhere.
This is our moment. Most generations get one, or maybe two if history favors them. Our great-grandparents fought in WWI and created our military, our defense department and our stock market. Their children fought Nazis and Japanese troops before coming home and building cars, and eventually the middle class.
Their children elected Kennedy, fought in or against Vietnam, threw Nixon out of office and won the Gulf War. And then, there was us. Our great war might have begun on a weary day in September.
Some of us went to die in the desert after that. Others invented Facebook or rewrote the rules of communication. We’ve created an entirely new kind of society, one now fundamentally linked to the digital world.
So now, as we stand waiting for a night filled with faceless terrorists, economic uncertainty, endless global competition, rising cultural tensions and diminishing resources, we ask ourselves, “What light will we bring?”
What skills, what passions and what new age will we usher in as the challenges are thrust upon us? Don’t disengage from the world because it frightens or intimidates you. Don’t shy from complexity or controversy when seeking answers.
It is our duty to make the world into something better than what it is. Like it or not, we are a nation that is rich, fat and alive, simultaneously. We are the kingmakers, the Alpha. As educated members of the lone Western superpower, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to lead the pack. If the crisis of energy, nuclear weaponry and economic doom are going to be solved, we have to solve them.
If a new age of art is upon us, we have to make it ourselves. As children, we had the luxury of the backseat, the welcome embrace of knowing that someone else would handle the really important stuff.
They won’t. Only a very minute number of individuals tangibly change the world. But cultural and social shifts happen like waves. We have to embrace our coming responsibility and, rather than burden ourselves with the sole task of saving the world, accept we have an individual duty to do good, use our talents and care for our neighbors.
So, drink in your education. Savor and bathe in it until you cannot possibly absorb anything more. With literally billions on the planet without the most basic needs, our expensive, relentless education could at least be used to help a few of them out.
It’s midnight now, and the night will be long and dark, but the morning is coming. And when it does come, you’ll want to have been prepared for it. You’ll want to help bring the sunlight back, to seek a world with less darkness and paranoia, and more joy. You don’t want to miss it and you don’t want to fail. Otherwise, it’ll suddenly be morning, and the sun will wink through the curtains and wake you, middle aged and surrounded by a world unfamiliar, threatening and without warmth.
Walk tall, think boldly and eat fear for breakfast, then, get to work.