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To the Class of 2008

June 03, 2008

Each year at this time, seniors at local high schools and colleges gather to receive their diplomas and to hear an inspirational speech from some wise person in the community. Since it's a celebration, the speakers seldom hand out hard truths with the sheepskins, but we will not be so reluctant.

Despite the great value our culture places on youth, unless you're a genius, it will probably be several years before you can influence the policy of the company you work for.

The same goes for local politics, or even a neighborhood association. Change, unless it involves something like a tax cut, is embraced reluctantly. Making it happen can take years. Unless you're prepared to fight a long battle for what you believe, you'll probably lose.

Deciding that the battles are futile shouldn't be an option, because problems that are left alone usually don't solve themselves. For example, on the issue of race, the civil rights bills of the 1960s changed the nation's laws, but since then, too little effort has been exerted to change the people's hearts.

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Moral questions like these will dominate American life for at least the next 20 years. Consider this: Advanced medical technology will make it possible to live longer lives, but will it be available only to those who can afford it, or will the costs be shared with the entire society?

And if it's government-run, who decides if it's a wise use of the taxpayers' money to, for example, give a liver transplant to a 75-year-old man?

And speaking of taxpayers' money, now that the welfare rolls have been trimmed of the easy cases, does society let the remaining recipients sink or swim? And if in the midst of prosperity people persist in endangering themselves and others by taking illegal drugs and abusing alcohol, how do we persuade them that sobriety is a better choice?

Finally, in America, the freedom to believe in anything has been used as an excuse to believe in nothing at all.

The loss of a strong sense of right and wrong hurts us just as certainly (if not in the same way) as the bullets fired in too many schoolyards in recent years. Beginning to reclaim that lost moral code might be the next generation's most important task.

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