Here were my opening remarks for the 2018 Youth of the Year Awards for the Exchange Club of Carlisle offered April 4.
“What a great day we have been given to serve together! I am especially glad to be here with the Exchange Club of Carlisle. Your members have embraced the charge to create opportunities for service right here in our Greater Carlisle community. This is my fourth time speaking at this event and I am honored to be invited back for these impressive students.
Today for this 2018 Youth of the Year recognition, I would like to reflect on the opportunity and obligation for service by our awardees whom we honor here this evening
I have read the biographies and award nomination packets of the three students we celebrate tonight. They are very remarkable young people — each in their own right — Elizabeth Fry (Big Spring High School), Melanie Searle (Boiling Springs High School), and Daniel Spivak (Carlisle High School). They are Bright with GPAs of 4.0. They are Accomplished having received numerous academic, civic, theater, and athletic recognition. They are Driven. They are B-A-D, BAD!! — Bright, Accomplished, and Driven — in this case, BAD is good!
What perhaps sets them apart from others who might be here tonight is that they were also provided Opportunity. Opportunity enabled them to overcome challenges and press forward, even in the face of uncertainty, and these youths have chosen to Serve when and where needed — they have learned to do so by watching the exemplars in their lives — parents, neighbors, teachers, and coaches.
Over the course of the high school years of our honorees, we have closed out a series of anniversaries of historical events. Think of the commemorations for the Battle of Gettysburg, the start of the First World War, the end of the Second War World with victories in Europe and the Pacific, the end of the Vietnam War, and the victories of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Like most of the adults in this room, I am part of the baby boomer generation — born following the Second World War and the Korean Conflict. My parents, George and Lorraine, grew up in northern Alabama and experienced a world besieged by economic struggle and ideological conflict. They knew hardship of the Great Depression; they lived the racial discrimination of the Jim Crow south; and they knew the xenophobia of internment camps for Japanese-Americans. They wanted something more for their children and migrated north where I grew up through the 1960s and 70s.
I remember the assassination of national leaders — President John F. Kennedy in 1963, Civil Rights Leader Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (April 4 marked the 50th anniversary of his death in 1968), and presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. Their words still resonate in my mind — From JFK: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”; From MLK — “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”; and from RFK — “Some people look at the world and say why. I look at the world and ask why not?”
Throughout my middle and high school years, my country was at war. During those years, there were protests in our cities across the nation. Those protests were to seek justice — political justice, economic justice, social justice, and educational justice — so that all Americans had the opportunity to realize the American Dream of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Then, there was the looming cloud of political scandal at the highest levels of our American government, and the call for law and order juxtaposed against equal representation in governance and civil rights. And back then, the youth of our nation expressed their dissatisfaction with existing status quo — “Don’t trust anyone over 30” was a mantra. Well, I am well over 30 now.
I offer that there are parallels with the generation of our awardees Elizabeth, Melanie, and Daniel. They are not millennials, but the leading members of Generation Z or the iGeneration. Throughout their lifetimes, our nation has been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They watched their parents during the Great Recession of December 2007 to June 2009. They witnessed — on television and social media — acts of violence against Americans in our schools, churches, theaters, as well as in communities. They have being trying the square the circle of American values and principles with the inconsistencies of behavior in our society.
From a Wikipedia post, “A 2014 study Generation Z Goes to College found that Generation Z students self-identify as being loyal, compassionate, thoughtful, open-minded, responsible, and determined.” In a following 2015 study, “American Gen Zers were found to be less optimistic about the United States’ trajectory in general, less concerned about illegal immigration than previous generations, and more concerned about the state of minorities in the U.S. Despite this, 78% of American Generation Zers believed the American Dream was attainable.”
We should be encouraged that Elizabeth, Melanie, and Daniel are preparing themselves as leaders for the next chapter in American history. It is wholly appropriate that their Carlisle Exchange Club essays address the topic “Strengthening America through Socially Responsible Communities.”
Their Generation Z will shape the future of our country and make America strong in accordance with its founding principles. They will need our support and patience as they learn to lead our country — it will soon be their turn.”
Retired Army Col. Charles D. Allen is a professor of leadership and cultural studies at the Army War College.