Okay, I’d just like to share it.
Dear Class 0f 2020:
It’s easy and even natural for graduating college students to be upset and scared at the state of the world. There are very, very real things going on. Too real, if I’m being honest.
On the other hand each American decade, no matter how bright and shiny it might now appear to be in comparison to the present one, had its severe problems. At least the ones I’ve lived through. These near insurmountable challenges also came at heavy costs that, at the time, seemed every bit as cataclysmic as the world seems now.
The threat of a nuclear war, the bloody telegenic images of the Vietnam War and the terror of the draft that helped fuel a wild in the streets cultural revolution of the sixties and early seventies.
Pres. Kennedy was shot live on TV, college students were shot by police live at Kent State University in Ohio and the shot up bodies of soldiers on both sides of that pesky conflict in Southeast Asia were displayed everywhere you turned, for all the world to see. And in those days you got to watch it live on network television with your parents, arguing around the dinner table as you were choking on a meal you barely liked anyway.
AIDS ravaged the eighties and a good part of the nineties. For the longest time, no one was 100% sure of how many different ways you could get it, who had it and whether there would ever be such a thing as sex that couldn’t potentially kill you (Note: And not in a metaphorical way) in anyone’s lifetime.
As if it that wasn’t bad enough, this was set against a backdrop of a new American mantra – greed is good – and a mostly callous disregard on the part of a very vocal majority towards anyone less fortunate than themselves, be it the homeless or the dying.
All that hopeful stuff you now read now about Ronald Reagan’s Morning in America – um, not so much. Think of that as the MAGA bromide of the era, sans any kind of irony. At all. And without the clownish red hat.
The hope of a new century was, well, very hopeful for a minute or two, what with the new digital age and all of its possibilities in the pre Facebook/Cambridge Analytica era. But then just like that the very early 2000 aughts became a post-911 world and every American walked around shell-shocked and terrified that the party was over. Certainly the world as we knew or thought we knew it, had ended.
When would the next bomb hit, how long would it be before WWIII would start and would WE start it, and wait, on top of all of this the ECONOMY IS CRASHING, too? We’re DOOMED.
Until we weren’t.
But then here we are in the 2000 teens, awash in Trumpism and COVID- 19. Up to our eyes and ears with their infections, clinging to the hope that a durable enough mask of any sort will keep them away or, at the very least, neuter their effects on our persons.
Even though masks, be they literal, psychological or symbolic, have historically only gone so far in keeping any type of bad ju-ju at bay. Like each decade that came before, it takes a lot of diligence, determination and ingenuity from a vocal enough part of the American plurality (that’s you), and then majority (that’s also you), to right our ship from the metaphorical iceberg (Note: Since the real ones barely exist anymore) and ensure our mutual survival.
I’m unclear how this will happen at this particular moment in time, just as I have been in the past. (Note: Remember the CD hadn’t even been close to invented yet when I graduated college).
But if our history is any indication I have great belief that we will manage to do this and somehow once again squeak by with the unlikeliest of American victories, albeit at a far greater cost than was necessary had we acted earlier.
This does seem to be our pattern. It’s long been credited to Winston Churchill, then discredited he ever uttered the words, but as the famous saying goes:
YOU CAN ALWAYS COUNT ON AMERICANS TO DO THE RIGHT THING – AFTER THEY’VE EXHAUSTED ALL OTHER POSSIBILITIES.
As we endure a global pandemic and recognize that it and it alone has become the most formidable weapon we’ve had to vanquish Trumpism in the last three years, it’s difficult to celebrate. Talk about picking your poisons.
And yet, I recall it’s sort of like how I felt about AIDS all during the fight for gay marriage. I’d throw both my gay marriage license and the historic Supreme Court ruling itself into a raging furnace in a nanosecond if it could undo that plague and bring back all the people – gay, straight and everyone in between – that we lost.
But I can’t pretend that if it weren’t for the horror and the spotlight it put on the gay community that we would have gotten the right to marry so quickly after. In showing the world just how human and like them we were than they thought, and by forcing the world to SEE our brothers and sisters dying right in front of them, those of us who survived saw the times once again rise from the ashes of despair and morph into something slightly better. Not on all the issues and not entirely, but evolve they did. Until the next calamity came along. As it is wont to do.
That’s the universal truth of both history and evolution when you play the long game. It always comes at a cost.
For People Of Color that’s fighting American racism daily, worrying that any moment you could be shot in cold blood while jogging through a white neighborhood despite the abolition of slavery, the rise of the civil rights movement and the presidency of Barack Obama.
For women it’s the daily fight of sexism and the fact that no female has ever served as an American president or vice-president despite outnumbering men population-wise for centuries, suffrage, Roe Vs. Wade, and….well, the list is endless and yet, um…paltry.
Still, if the truth is a bitter pill to swallow it sure beats sleep walking in a mirage you bought into as truth that was always going to disappear or stab you in the back.
Better to be awake and aware. You at least have the chance to use your rage, fear, smarts and creativity to fight the bad ju-ju. And much more so than the rest of us, YOU now have time AND American history on YOUR side.
If the past is prologue, you won’t come out fully unscathed but you will be more than okay. Plus, you won’t have to live through disco or the eighties.
That’s more than I can say for the rest of us who helped create this mess for you.