Joe Calder, 19, had plenty of practice for his graduation speech at Cary Academy on Friday. For years, he’d argued opinions and facts before judges in speech and debate clubs.
And as he and his classmates leave high school amid the election year climax of four years of political strife, the graduate said, there’s nothing they should do more than talk, read and empathize.
Calder, who school officials asked to speak on the future, said his generation is entering a polarized, politicized world that only vigorous, fair and public debate can turn right.
“A lot of us, at least my age, saw the latter half of the Bush years, and the first years Obama, and nobody’s been impressed,” he said in an interview before the speech. “We haven’t bought into any ideology,” he continued. “We haven’t seen any success of any ideology in our lifetimes.”
A recent Harvard University poll found that 20 percent of America’s 18- to 29-year-olds believe the country is “headed in the right direction” – an increase of eight percentage points from November, but no show of confidence.
The younger generation, already jaded by financial scams and political scandals, must look within itself for answers, Calder said.
In a word, his advice for his fellow graduates is they must become “unconquerable” by learning about the world that waits after the turn of the tassel.
“There’s a lot we’re at risk of, an inexplicably large amount of greed in our national culture right now,” he said. “Look at people like Bernie Madoff, some of the executives after the 2008 crash. It’s just kind of deplorable.”
But to be “unconquerable,” Calder explained, is not necessarily to be unyielding. As his graduating classmates go to the polls this fall for their first presidential election, they should reshape politics by looking to results instead of the scoreboard, said Calder, the liberal-leaning son of a corporate lawyer and a real-estate investor.
“When you start to look at politics like a game, with winners or losers, instead of a struggle to find out what the best policies are, then I really think you start to lose, in a sense, the virtues of democracy,” said Calder
With better education in civics and politics, he said, Americans could compromise more easily, run their government more efficiently, and cross old obstacles.
“It’s easier said than done,” he said, “but at the end of the day that’s what’s needed: A cleansing of those stigmas, and those social ideas.”
Calder will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and study journalism and global studies.