The kids are all right – and alright
by John Pixley
Deborah Bial asked those in the audience to think back to being nine years old. She remembers having braids. What, she wondered, do others remember about when they were nine?
For most of those she was addressing, this meant thinking back about 10 years. For others in the audience two weeks ago, it meant, as with her, thinking back more or many more years.
Ms. Bial was speaking to the graduates of Pomona College, along with all their families and friends and others attending the college’s commencement ceremony on that unusually cool and damp Sunday morning. (Instead of the usual fans, plastic white rain ponchos, along with the now-standard hot coffee, were given out to all. No, Pomona College doesn’t play around!) The president and founder of The Posse Foundation, which helps minority students attend selective colleges like Pomona, made her comments after receiving an honorary degree for her work in encouraging young people.
In preparing for her remarks to the Pomona grads, Ms. Bial surveyed a number of nine-year-olds, asking them what they thought about and what is important to them. She was struck, if not surprised, that the children she spoke with didn’t talk about braids or Disney cartoons or toys. They talk about being afraid of what will happen if Donald Trump becomes president.
The kids, Ms. Bial said, are right. The world is a scary place. Even nine-year-olds are caught up in the election, as much of a wild ride as it has been, and are concerned about people saying mean things and getting hurt and not getting enough work.
Ms. Bial is right. The kids are right. Things are pretty scary out there. It is hard not to think about this during this graduation season, including the high school’s next week, when so many young people are going out into the world. Like the damp cold hanging over the Colleges’ ceremonies this year, worry about the country’s future and about the world’s future, on top of massive student debt, weigh down on these graduates.
I can’t help but feel for them as speaker after speaker, in these or so many words, tells them that they are the future’s hope and that we’re counting on them.
This is a hell of a lot. All that debt, and now the charge, the responsibility to go out and save the crazy world. It’s one thing to try to make the world a better place; it’s very much another to have to save it. No wonder the kids are worried, if not downright scared. Even when they’re nine.
Then again, it could be argued that they don’t have as much to worry about as many of us did when we were told to “duck and cover” for when the world was to be blown up at any time.
And then again, these graduates, these kids with the shining faces, are not groaning and weeping. They may be throwing up their hands, but it’s not to give up in despair but to applaud, to clap and holler about all that they have done and all they will do.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when the Pitzer College graduates, in their bright orange and white robes and their ever-more “out there” style, filed in with a marching band playing the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” Should I?
After all, these are the young people, along with many others like them, who are all fired up over Bernie Sanders. They make up the backbone of the huge crowd cheering on Sanders’ call for equality and inclusion for all. Yes, they get rowdy and rude sometimes but that is to be expected when it comes to being young and passionate. Hopefully this passion, along with some calm, rational thinking, will translate into votes, both in next week’s election and in November.
And, yes, they made a stink when former Secretary of State Madleine Albright spoke at the Scripps College commencement. They called her a war criminal, among other things, and thrust Claremont into the national headlines once again this school year. It’s been argued that these students and their peers are too sensitive and whiny, with their demand for trigger warnings and refusal to listen to those they don’t agree with but at least they are making the effort to make themselves heard, which is far better than the apathy that has come to be expected. It isn’t always better when the young are to be seen and not heard. (As for the professors who joined the protest at Scripps, of whom some said “they should know better,” let’s just say they were young-at-heart with their passion.)
This passion and enthusiasm, even when things are most challenging, is also what the students here add to Claremont. Yes, there are the many concerts and performances that many of us enjoy and that make life here all the better. But there are other things the students have done that actually help us out.
Last year, Pomona College students in an environmental analysis class taught by Char Miller made an inventory of Claremont’s trees. That’s 24,000 trees. Claremont is known as the City of Trees, after all. The students categorized each species and put them on an interactive street map available at claremontsurbanarboretum.wordpress.com. Any tree in town can be looked up, although there may have been changes since the map was first put online, and there will be information about that tree. This is quite a resource for a place where trees are so valued.
Or there is Maria Laura Arciniega, a senior at Pomona College who, along with Hong Deng Gao, started Health Bridges, a volunteer program providing patients at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center who don’t speak English with basic language interpretation, hospital navigation and enrollment in health coverage. The program was inspired by the young women’s experiences interpreting for their parents during doctor appointments and, with the assistance from other Pomona College students, they began providing this crucial service in October.
And just last week, there was the annual, year-end, big musical put on by the high school theater students, once again at Big Bridges. This year’s show was Peter Pan. As always with these productions directed by Krista Carson Elhai, it was not only a showcase for these kids’ talents, abilities and determination, it was a celebration in this special venue of the students’ energy and enthusiasm, bringing them and the rest of the community together in their accomplishment.