Guns and graduation

By George S. Chappell | Jun 22, 2018

We have a slew of graduations around the area at this time. The themes of many commencement speeches are so optimistic that one is led to believe the world is in good shape. But then, youth is speaking, and historically, youth is hopeful.

This new column in Courier Publications will reflect my observations about the human condition in and around Midcoast Maine. Sometimes the tone will be serious, but often it will be less than serious, partly because I try not to take myself too seriously. Anyway, English writer Geoffrey Chaucer coined the thought that many a truth is said in jest. Well, so much for frivolity.

Yet, I sympathize with anyone heading out into the world today from high school or college. It was bad enough when I did it years ago, but today’s graduates are faced with changing technology, including artificial intelligence in the form of robots, violence as a way of life and challenges to their values.

Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, D-Maine, who is one of my political heroes, was the speaker at my son’s graduation from the University of Maine in June 1992. It was what he said that day that prompted me to consider Mitchell a visionary. He told the youths they were facing a labor market in which some of the jobs and occupations were still being invented. That could be a scary change for one counting on the status quo.

His statement sounded prophetic and honest. There were no platitudes or descriptions of a promising picture. At a reception after the speech, my late wife told the senator that she liked the fact the speech was short, at which he laughed, saying he was sympathetic for he recalled sitting through many long graduations in his youth, which, by the way, was spent in Waterville, and then at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

The times have not changed since 1992, except that we all got a little older, but --- I believe -- not much wiser.

Just this March I attended a rally in Bangor conducted by opponents of gun violence. It was one of 700 similar rallies held around the country protesting the same concerns. The object of the protest was considered by rally organizers to be the final straw to gun violence in America, after the mass shooting at the school in Parkland, Fla., which caused the deaths of 17 students and teachers, and after so many other mass shootings in the country.

At the Bangor rally, parents, grandparents and students marched to a local church, where they gathered to voice support for changes in the gun laws. I went because I thought the rally would be a critical moment in our history, and I wanted to be there.

I was told the other day that students now are feeling anxious about going to school daily because of the uncertainty of safety. My biggest concern 50 years ago in school was being caught chewing gum or staring out the window and not listening to the teacher. That’s a far cry from having your classroom shot up.

Yet, it’s with the knowledge of this violence that today’s graduates are heading into taking their places as citizens and future leaders in our nation. Not only do they have to worry about their financial future, but also they are anxious for their safety. Being concerned for the future has always been the plight of young people, but not so with their safety.

The students are brave to sound optimistic, but deep down they are troubled. Do they want to have families and children? What kind of a life will those children have? Will they be able to afford to live? The unemployment rate may be low now, but many jobs pay poorly.

I said that youths face a challenge to their values, or the things they care about. Safety is something they care about. At a recent political debate at Camden Hills Regional High School, youths made it clear they would not accept glib answers from candidates on the use of guns, or on anything else, for that matter.

Many students will be 18 this year and will be able to vote in the fall election. Candidates who are accustomed to avoiding difficult questions will no longer get away with evasion, for the kids have no respect for traditional politics and will be blunt about their questions and their votes.

The youths know their time has come.

George S. Chappell, a resident of Rockland, is a former reporter with 30 years of experience. Since his retirement he has received a master's of fine arts from Goddard College in Vermont, and published three books of poetry. He teaches creative writing to adults at the public library in Waldoboro.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Edwin E Ecker | Jun 22, 2018 16:11

All your protests and all your marches will not change a damn thing about the moral condition that has prevailed on our society for the past 30 years.

Blame the gun, blame the law abiding gun owner and ignore the real problems that cause these mentally deficient people that commit the acts.

Maybe some day you people will get down off your high horse and do something constructive instead.

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