These kids are all right. Really, they are.
Sometimes adults should just simmer down and listen to the children.
We can mess things up in our quest for power, money, status or whatever. This week, watercooler talk around town is about a sitting Cincinnati councilwoman who asked for cash in exchange for political favors, prosecutors say. The partisan residuals of President Donald Trump’s impeachment remain. And an inert pack of Democratic presidential challengers is trying to figure out how to convince undecided voters to pick them.
So, pardon me while I shift gears in praise of the kids I have met over the past two weeks.
Last week, I served as a judge for the Cincinnati Rotary‘s annual speech contest. The week before, I was one of the presenters at an education conference for high school students at Miami University sponsored by the Cincinnati Chapter of Jack and Jill of America.
You get an idea that we’ll be OK if our legacy rests with the high achievers I met.
What’s on their minds? Typical things like sports, getting into college, fashion and music. But they are also collectively thinking deeply about mental health, immigration policy and sex education, race, school and parental pressures and cyberbullying.
Today’s kids, who have access to more information at their fingertips than any generation before them, face complex challenges every day. And, like all of us, they will make many mistakes. However, kudos to those who are doing positive things now.
Spoiler alert: At Rotary, Sarah Johnson, a student at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, won the speech competition because of her passion, her poise and her well-researched subject. She talked about how mental illness can snake through every aspect of life. She talked about the need to normalize treatment and treat it like we treat the flu or a broken limb.
“As a society, we cannot look past the issue of depression. It is not one that we can simply ignore and assume that it is something for them to solve for themselves,” Johnson said. Someone should take her to Washington, D.C., or Columbus or City Hall with that message.
Astrid Conte Pena was equally compelling. She addressed head-on the topic of illegal immigration, one of the cornerstones of President Trump’s foreign policy. Pena, whose parents are from the Dominican Republic, concealed her legal immigration status for part of her speech and assumed the role of an undocumented immigrant, touting their talents and contributions as part of the United States.
Walnut Hills High School student Yousuf Munir made a closing argumentworthy case to teach sex education in all Ohio public high schools. Professorial Liam O’Shaughnessy of Wyoming High School argued for the power of therapy in treating mental health.
At Miami, in my session, titled “Speaking to Lead,” I watched 30 high school students collaborate without hesitation in response to an assignment from me. In less than 20 minutes, pairs of them worked together to develop a personal mission statement or make an argument to be reinstated by their coach after a hypothetical benching.
This required them to take self-inventory, seek the advice of their teammates, think critically and thrive under pressure. They nailed it.
I wish I had more time and space to convey how proud I am of these kids.
Media doesn’t always show young people putting their best feet forward. We report on the missing, those involved in major crimes, those who have been abused one way or another by the adults in the room. That’s our fault.
Amid the sometimes chaotic world of adulthood, can we take a moment to simmer down? Could we get in a quiet place and hear and observe what our young people are saying and doing? What they reveal can be a guide to the future, a barometer for today, and maybe inspire us to mess things up a little less.
Byron McCauley is an Enquirer columnist. Email him at bmccauley@enquier. com. Phone: 513-768-8565. Social: @byronmccauley.