Back to school

I believe in the future
We shall suffer no more
Maybe not in my lifetime
But in yours I feel sure

— Paul Simon

Ten years ago, twenty years ago, the speakers at such an event wouldn’t have looked like this. And yet, here we are, in 21st century America, watching a female Asian American student body president introducing the African American president of the United States, before an audience of all cultures and colors. But diversity isn’t just noteworthy for diversity’s sake. Listen closely: Obama doesn’t just give a worthy speech about the well-known value of a good education, he’s also trying to rekindle a sense of community, an awareness that our individual destinies are bound up with everyone else’s: “the strength and character of this country has always come from our ability to recognize — no matter who we are, no matter where we come from, no matter what we look like, no matter what abilities we have — to recognize ourselves in each other.” As with his response to the controversy over the planned Islamic cultural center at Ground Zero, he’s doing his damnedest to make us see how connected we all are — and to encourage us towards decency and kindness.

Everything he says here should be almost painfully obvious and noncontroversial — I’m surprised his critics aren’t hollering as loudly about communist brainwashing as they were last year — and it’s stuff that parents should already be saying to their kids. It’s a sad state of affairs when it takes the President to remind us of these things; and yet it makes me hopeful, at the same time, to see that he does make the effort to reknit our fraying social fabric, to see him inspire the next generation and set them to dreaming about what they themselves can achieve. And despite whatever other shortcomings his critics on the Left and Right are happy to point out, this is yet another reason why I support him.

This country is hurting in so many ways, including in many of its educational policies. But I see the eloquence of that student body president, and I see the diverse and shining-eyed kids in the audience, and I see our own daughter’s voracious mind and the amazing things that she and her friends are achieving in school, and it gives me great hope. There’s an incredible new generation of Americans — of world citizens — waiting in the wings; their destinies are yet unwritten, but I feel sure they’ll be great ones. I still believe in the future.


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