Last week, the Seniors at my school finished up their classes. There are still plenty of events that must happen before they walk off into the sunset. But their absence from daily class is noticeable and the transition is cause for me to reflect on our year together.
I have been teaching at least one section of Intro to American Government since 1992. That means that I've had the opportunity to witness plenty of American elections through the eyes of students. In 1992, when I was 25 years old, my students and I were basically of the same generation. But I turned 41 just a few days after the 2008 election; some of my students weren't even 18. A generation of experiences (and interests) divides us now.
I spend a good deal of my life in the company of teenagers. And while I don't always think like them (well, most of the time, anyway), I do think that I have a pretty good understanding of their concerns and interests. In Madison's words, I think that I have an "intimate sympathy" with these folks. I like them and make it a point to treat their opinions seriously.
Elections are always interesting when you're teaching a government class but this past fall they were truly inspiring. My students were consumed with the people and the issues of the day; they felt a kind of pride in their nation that I hadn't experienced in the company of teenagers before. I truly do believe that it was an Obama Effect. As a candidate, Barack Obama treated their concerns seriously. They responded as serious citizens should respond, learning more about their world. It made me incredibly proud to spend my days with these young people, talking about how our nation could be a better place and a better leader in our sometimes frightening world.
They are about to go out into the world; to take up the mantle of learning that will send them on their way to be the next generation of leaders. And my days with them have convinced me of at least one certainty: they are ready for the tasks that lie ahead of them. In them, I have seen our future. And it looks most hopeful.