This is not, by statistical measures, a wonderful time to graduate from high school or college. Watching your daughter march across the stage to accept her college degree, a guy starts to think about such things.
After all, work is scarce, credit is tight, and economists say the foreseeable future looks pretty grim.
Trying to find a job and start a career in a time of such transition, an era in which institutions and industries are collapsing with little real sense of what will replace them, or what the future holds —- it ought to be intimidating.
Yet I don’t see that fear in the eyes of today’s graduates, only eagerness and passion.
And while it’s tempting to explain that optimism as the foolishness of youth, I suspect it’s more well-grounded in fact than the rest of us understand.
In important ways, this is probably a better time than most to start an adult life and make a mark on the world.
Yes, things are scary out there. The easy prosperity that just a year ago seemed our national birthright has disappeared.
The world today can seem diminished in potential compared to the world that we adults had known until now.
But the shock of that change has to be more profound for those of us who have been around a while, who have built expectations of how the world should and would operate.
For many older Americans, there’s an understandable sense that this isn’t how things were supposed to be.
But those just entering adulthood aren’t shackled by such expectations. They have no sense of loss, no sense of disappointment or even surprise.
From their perspective, the world they’re about to enter, the world of jobs and careers and business, was going to be new and strange no matter what; the economic disruption and transitions of the past year don’t change that at all.
To the contrary, their lack of expectation, their adaptability and yes, their willingness to work more cheaply give them a great advantage in times like these.
The rhythm of this new era is already their rhythm; this is the world they know, the world in which they have grown up.
Their mothers and fathers, and even their older sisters and brothers, may have years or decades of experience, but in many ways that matter, they know this environment better than we, their elders, do.
They know it instinctively.
It wasn’t that long ago that you would come across articles bemoaning the fact that opportunities for young people would likely be stifled by the refusal of baby boomers to get off the stage, to surrender jobs and opportunity.
With real estate prices soaring, they also wouldn’t be able to afford to buy houses of their own until well into adulthood.
All that is less of a problem now too. (Well, it’s less of a problem for young people, but more of a problem for us boomers.)
In an old-growth forest, the big trees block sunlight from reaching the forest floor, suppressing competition.
But once a few of the old trees are knocked down, once the landscape changes and the canopy opens to blue sky above, suddenly there’s opportunity where none existed.
That’s today’s world. And unless things take an even worse turn, this will be the toughest economic climate today’s graduates ever experience.
They’ll figure out a way to survive it, to make it work, and with luck, they’ll never know how hard they had it.