(CNN) Extremism has a knack for metastasizing and coming back to wreak havoc upon its hosts. Once a cohort or society builds a hateful mindset, the hatred takes on a life of its own. Extremist ideology not only hurts a society’s enemies, but also eventually attacks from within and harms the society from which it originated. I first started observing this phenomenon abroad — and it saddens but does not surprise me that we are starting to see it haunt American democracy too.
Today, I want to talk about a light and fluffy subject: your generation’s role in steering humanity in the right direction. No pressure, Dalton.
But in all seriousness, Dalton, I love what you shared about “leaving everywhere you go better than you found it…and finding ways to give grace and inspiration to the people around you.”
I want to talk today about HOW to do that as you are all simultaneously challenged and blessed with graduating as our world is re-entering a stage of dramatic consequence.
The ship of humanity is moving in the wrong direction, and it will be upon all of you to steer it back on track.
To illustrate this point, I want to compare the circumstances when my father’s generation came of age, to those when my generation and your generation graduated from college.
My father was fifteen-and-a-half when he was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp by American soldiers. He was barely alive. He never got to go to school past third grade, let alone college. Several of your grandparents were around your age when they were sent to free Europe from tyranny and darkness.
By contrast, when I was fifteen years-old, my family immigrated to America from Mexico. I was able to attend college during a period when passionate but cordial debate was the norm. I remember observing political leaders vehemently disagree on a particular topic, while maintaining a friendship rooted in respect. Our world was far from perfect – but the arc of human progress trended in an upward direction. Freedom, open markets, human rights, civility, and the quest for knowledge were all advancing.
It seemed almost too good to be true. In fact, it was so good that we began to lose sight that Our Great American Experiment isn’t so much a fixed state of affairs as it is a purposeful daily affirmation – something that we opt into, live out, and vote for not once every four years, but every single day – through how we engage with one another.