This past weekend, after Johnston County seniors graduated from high school and a lone gunman killed 49 people in a Florida nightclub, it occurred to me that I don’t know much.
To people who say America did something to bring terrorism to its doorstep, I don’t know how you make peace with an enemy who hates you for who you are. To ISIS and its sympathizers, one need only be American to be a target; no wrongdoing is required. How else to explain the killings in San Bernardino, Calif., where the attackers shot dead people who were doing nothing more than attending a holiday party?
To people who say America should wipe ISIS off the map, I don’t know how you eradicate an enemy with no country, no uniform, no military bases and a large pool of potential recruits.
In 1979, when I graduated from high school, I had a game plan: I would attend college, earn a degree in journalism and then land a job at a newspaper. Thirty-seven years later, I don’t know what I would tell a high school senior approaching graduation today.
I still like college for the experience, especially a four-year school a little removed from home. And I think some college majors will always yield jobs. I think my daughter, for example, was wise to major in education, because a growing North Carolina will need more teachers, not fewer, and it’s encouraging too that state lawmakers appear intent on raising teacher pay, though I think teachers are still undervalued.
Ten or 20 years ago, if someone had asked me to speak at a high school commencement, I would have told the graduating seniors to pursue their passion. But I don’t know what I would tell today’s high school seniors. Could I, in good conscience, tell an aspiring artist, musician or actor to pursue that major in college? I don’t know.
For most of this country’s long history, one generation has had good reason to believe that the next would fare better. I am sure my grandparents thought this of my mom and dad. I’m sure my mom and dad thought this of me and my brothers.
And I’d like to think my daughter will fare better than me. But I’d don’t know.
These are unsettling times, made that way mostly because job prospects are uncertain but also because we worry about our safety. If people at a holiday party or in a nightclub can be shot dead randomly, then who is safe? I don’t know.
And neither do I know if tomorrow will be better than today, and that for me is new and unsettling.