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Maybe Thursday’s snow in what is usually dry, windy May set up the little miracle of synchronicity that reflects the Class of 2008: life opens to surprises. A class that was formed by the Cerro Grande Fire, 9-11 and the last seven years in wars whose investment in blood and treasure could bankrupt their future – this class marched through graduation into adulthood with the fire of hope.
Theirs doesn’t seem to be a cheerful Reagan don’t-worry-be-happy optimism, nor the Clintonesque confidence in dot-com instant fortunes. What I heard from the speakers at graduation and from the graduates as the proceeded up the ramp toward their diplomas, was that their hope is in the reality of creating a better world though their own service and self-sacrifice.
Where did it come from? Who are their models?
The U.S. administration, whose response to 9-11 wasn’t to join the world community in seeking solutions to problems that foment terrorism, but rather to “buy and fly,” and wage war to eradicate what it believes to be only a finite number of terrorists?
Congress with their inability to make decisions for the common good rather than for corporations?
Entertainers and sports figures who become celebrities through bad behavior, then exploit that status selling products with their names attached?
I doubt it.
I’m going to follow the example of the graduation speaker, teacher Jonathan Lathrop – who took the risk to ask us to wage peace, not war – and take a risk to move into myth: I wonder whether the fact of the fire hitting this class right at the point developmental psychology calls “the edge between imagination and logic” allowed them to imbue with deeper meaning the fire, the loss and then the subsequent resurrection of the town.
Maybe their hope comes from having watched people from all over northern New Mexico reaching out to them during the fire. Maybe at 10 or 11 years old, they were still in a more selfless stage and knew the pleasure of giving rather than receiving – or in some cases, the wonder of being the recipient of the selflessness of others.
Fire could be part of their myth – our fire, and that of others from 9-11 and into the wars. There are two kinds of fire: destructive and renewing.
Maybe this class understands that fighting fire with fire – the Forest Service back-burn during Cerro Grande that jumped the ski-hill road and burned the town, the revenge war on Iraq – sometimes doesn’t work. Their myth might be formed through their experience of cooperation.
Many of them after Cerro Grande re-planted and mitigated the blackened hills and watercourses, then watched the mountains return to life. It takes lots of people and lots of cooperation to undo a cataclysmic fire. Maybe their personal fire of commitment comes from that experience of collaboration
Maybe they could project their personal experience to the fires of 9-11. Maybe they can empathize with the grief caused by the fires of war. Maybe the strongest lesson they learned from their 10-year-old time is that no matter how black things seem, if we work together, we can make it better.
As I stood shaking hands and getting a chance at a few quick responses to “What’re you going to do?” I heard a stunningly lot of careers aimed at service to others. You don’t plan your life around self-sacrifice unless you have hope that you will make a difference. Someone has to convince you of your importance in the world and more, someone has to convince you of the importance of others.
So there is a personal myth that grows to inspire us but it must be nurtured to bloom, then produce.
And therefore, to you, the gardeners, I offer profound thanks. To the mentors who took time to encourage, the teachers from pre-school through graduation who taught them more than what they needed to know in order to pass the test, the administrators who struggled to keep the heat on and the policy relevant, the community who kept watch and the kids safe, those who guided them within the “now” to create the character to carry into the future – and especially the families who consolidated everything everyone else gave them into the person that they are – to each of you, an indefinably enormous wow.
And to you, the class of ’08, an equally incredible awe. Commitment without hope is merely hours and hours of drudgery.
Too many of us are committed to the work, but have forgotten the purpose, let alone the soul-soaring excitement that comes with remembering why we’re doing it in the first place.
Meeting you Saturday reminded me. Our job is to pull you up and hack a way for you to move forward. Then we’ll step aside and let you continue on.
You’re it, ’08. And we’re so darned proud!