It’s the season of caps and gowns, big dreams and a beckoning future.
Commencement speakers are advising graduates to go for the gold, dig deep and change the world.
The diploma-ed listen vacantly, their minds occupied with what may lie beyond tomorrow, both inviting and perilous.
One of the best pieces of commencement advice was from Mark Twain: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you found out why.”
Sadly, the latter does not accompany a sheepskin and can be most elusive, especially when we’re tempted to impose our own purpose.
I shudder at the prospects these young people face. Sure, the job market is good, and the loving will always find love, but the current state of the world seems inhospitable to hope and purpose.
Our habitat is heating up, seas are rising as coastlines fall and natural events have become unnaturally ferocious.
The war in Ukraine dominates headlines, but we forget there are armed conflicts in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Mali, Mexico and a litany of other countries.
At home, we have had more mass shootings than days this year. Soon there won’t be enough thoughts and prayers to go around.
Culture wars have created a spiteful and demeaning scorched-earth environment where the center is muted by the roar of the right and the left.
It’s not surprising that there is more loneliness in Gen Z’ers than in any previous generation. Of course, COVID isolation contributed to this, but so did fear and trembling.
And it is going to be hard for them because Gen Z is not only the loneliest generation, but also the least religious. A third of them have no religious affiliation.
This means that they will not have a faith community to support them, to offer a sense of belonging or to provide a ready vehicle for serving the good of the community.
But I shouldn’t underestimate them. They are not only the most diverse generation, they strive for diversity.
They care about others and are highly collaborative. They are pragmatic about the big issues, concerned much more with effectively addressing them than the politics involved.
Perhaps we, as well as Gen Z, need to trust the words of Jeremiah:
“‘For surely I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for your welfare, and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.’”