There are two crippling factors lingering above our national consciousness: America has shifted its focus of nation building (or un-building some might say) to distant regions of the globe and we have unparalleled numbers of unemployed, confused college graduates. It is time for a shift in our collective norms to combat both of these widening epidemics.
The majority of millennials were in elementary school when the Twin Towers were hit, and are oblivious to life during peacetime. Yet, roughly 99 percent of them have not been directly impacted by the past 13 years of war.
When the military draft was outlawed in 1973, the nation did a service to its youth but in so doing provided a disservice to and created a divide between those who volunteer and those who do not. And now the guilty remnants of such legislation are walking around college campuses bereft of a sense of duty and obligation to one’s country.
The millennial generation has been accused of being too coddled, too self-serving and too directionless to make it in the “real world.” Consumed by social media and constantly plugged in to the digital world, face-to-face communication is proving difficult for many of them; and, understandably, most prefer to conduct conversations behind the security of a screen.
If we are being honest with ourselves, 18 years of age is too young to take a definitive stance on our future course of life. At that age, hormones are raging, identities are still forming and mindfulness is relatively unlearned.
By revamping the pathway to education, our country could receive a glistening rebirth, while our youth experiences a crash course in reality. If we were forced to dedicate two years of national service between secondary and continuing education, colleges and universities would be stocked with more fully formed students capable of embracing their individual orbits of evolution.
The new “Batman” movie is currently being filmed in Detroit because the devastating condemnation of the city’s streets and buildings fit the director’s vision of a post-apocalyptic Gotham city. Imagine if Michigan’s co-eds had spent 24 months beautifying these desperate areas throughout the state and rebuilding its infrastructure.
New Mexico, the District of Columbia and Arizona are the hungriest states in the nation, with nearly one-third of their citizens unable to gain access to adequate food. If the students from these three states dedicated two years of their lives to feeding their impoverished peers, a sense of community would be inherently instilled within them.
Washington, California, New Jersey and Louisiana have been devastated by national disasters. If 18 – 20-year-olds dedicated hard time to cleaning up our coastlines, a national sense of honor would accompany them to their college classes.
Homelessness has reached unprecedented rates in Florida and Massachusetts. If college-age kids worked to combat these soaring numbers, a sense of purpose and utility would guide their future studies.
Documentarian Ken Burns describes our national parks as “America’s best idea.” Time spent preserving the redwoods, the Grand Tetons, Yosemite National Valley or any other majestic site could grant catharsis as a means to connect with one’s soul.
Imagine young men being handed the opportunity to volunteer alongside their local firefighters or pounding the pavement with their city’s road crews. Envision disciplined young women providing treatment to abused and abandoned animals, or connecting with female victims of abuse and neglect. Youths who have grown up in affluent households could use their resources to travel nationally, and internationally, in an effort to equip underprivileged children with the supplies needed to pursue education, the arts and sports.
No one disputes the threats waged by foreign adversaries; but we have real-time problems hankering the homeland. The opportunities are there to rebuild afflicted citizens and areas from sea to shining sea; and we can use capable young adults who need help in building their own sense of self.
Two years of national service prior to entering the college ranks has the potential to rewire national thinking towards the greater good, and inadvertently, force young people to unplug and connect to the human spirit – an ideal paramount to personal growth. If the country can redirect its national interests toward expanding a young person’s mind, passions will emerge and untapped emotions can surface. The biggest obstacle is transforming “if” into “when.”