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Even an old guy like me believes this year’s graduating seniors are impressive


When I graduated from high school, nobody had tattoos or earrings on their noses. Boys had to wear their pants above their hips – with a belt – and girls couldn’t wear blue jeans with so many holes they looked like they were on fire and put out by a machete.

Unless you count “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly, we didn’t listen to music with suggestive lyrics. (Actually, the song was supposed to be called “In the Garden of Eden,” but the band members were so intoxicated when they recorded it, it came out garbled.)

We all had weekend and summer jobs. Mine was emptying garbage cans at Walt Disney World. It was the best $68-a-week job I ever had.

Now that I’m two years away from my 50th class reunion, it’s easy to be pessimistic about the current graduating classes. With age comes aches and pains. In high school, I never used the word “ointment” – much less used it.

I get two discounts – one for being a senior citizen and a second for not having a lot of hair – at the barber shop. Students nowadays go to a stylist. They leave with colorful stripes and glitter weaves.

Today’s youth are eager to show off their Chuck Taylor All-Stars as if they discovered them. I wore them 50 years ago, but we called them Converse All-Stars. You could tell they were made from cloth because every three months, the fabric would tear from the sole. We wore them to play, not for fashion. And that was cool.

This generation has Xbox. We had clackers. This generation has man buns. We had sideburns.

I guess with time, older people lose faith in our future. Being grumpy and pessimistic goes with turning gray and losing your hearing. That’s what older people often do. We complain.

I spent the last three weeks interviewing seniors from our county’s high schools who fought a difficult challenge and succeeded. What I found was our future is in good hands. Today’s young people have a different way of getting things done, but we have to have faith they will make a difference.

After all, my parents said my generation was udderless, too. The only thing my parents and I had in common was they wore Converse All-Stars, too.

The students’ stories were compelling and enlightening. They face different – and indeed more societal-sensitive topics – than my generation. The students I met have learned to deal – and flourish – despite 24-hour news cycles, outside noise and challenges.

Middleburg senior Asypn Martin made a lasting impression. She has been through unspeakable struggles, only to come through them with boundless energy and optimism. Her classmates, teachers, school officials and foster parents loved her without asking any questions. I consider myself lucky to meet her. Her incredibly encouraging words also impressed me: “There’s a ton of good people out there if you search for them. Being happy is a decision, and I’ve decided to be happy.”

You also learn our children and grandchildren are in good hands. I saw principals, coaches, staff and teachers who take a personal interest in every student’s future. When they talk about their students, you can hear the confidence in their voices and pride in their smiles.

Let’s hope this generation takes the rancor out of our political process. Let’s believe they will help us find a way to discuss our differences, not argue about them. Maybe this generation can cure diseases, solve hunger and homelessness, end crime and curb drug abuse.

I like their chances.