Thank you, class of 2018: America’s conscience

Eden Prairie High School seniors Addie Rodriguez, Aubrey Rosenlund and Beth Kutina at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School–inspired March For Our Lives protest at the Minnesota State Capitol March 24. Photo by Jim Walsh

Around this time of year it’s been something of a tradition for this column to pay tribute to the spring’s graduating high school classes, and this tumultuous year I’m here to offer crib notes for what, by my lights, should be at the heart of every graduation speech or commencement address to America’s conscience, the class of 2018.

For almost two years we’ve been living under the gloom and doom of a would-be dictator and his revolving door of power-mad morons and a toxic “Truman Show”-esque version of democracy. But a few months ago, led by the survivors of the Parkland, Florida, shooting, America’s high school class of 2018 woke up this country by speaking truth to power and regularly and fearlessly roasting — on Twitter and beyond — the likes of “president” Trump, the NRA and his myriad flocks of racist, sexist, stupid sheep.

Hell yes and thanks for the kick in the butt, kids. As far as I can tell there hasn’t been a more impactful generation since young Americans volunteered to fight in and/or protest the world wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. These kids who have taken to the streets over what’s right and what’s wrong are just as much leaders, heroes and soldiers who’ve responded not with the Calm Down and Carry On anesthesia drip of their parents and their parents’ media, but by fighting the good fight for the best parts of this country and calling BS on the bad.

Which undoubtedly gets under the skin of a Southwest Journal reader who writes me angry emails every time I have the audacity to call out “president” Trump for what he is and what he is not (a terrible person and an even worse excuse for a leader), but I don’t get too down about it because I only skim and delete her blind brainwashed rage, knowing full well that, over the last few months, she and the rest of ugly America’s ignorance has been mitigated by the smarts, courage and hope found in students from the class of 2018.

Lord knows I’ve needed the wisdom of these teens. Don’t ask why, but I still read, watch and listen to the local news, and I grow more and more uncomfortable and disgusted at the lack of any “controversial” opinion or lack of outrage being expressed about the times we the boiling lobsters are living through. Thank god for music, other newspapers and media and the reporters, columnists and editors coming out of the class of 2018.

“Don’t trust anyone over 30” was the teens’ and twentysomethings’ slogan of the ’60s, born of a disgust with the older generations’ complacency and calcification in the face of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. Here we are again, and for good reason, and likewise the class of 2018 will have a lot to answer for when they — the “mass shooting generation” as one Parkland student labeled his tribe — turn 30 in 2030.

And who can blame them for being fed-up with their elders? Saturday night, I watched the live broadcast of Michelle Wolf‘s mostly hilarious roast of “president” Trump and the media at the White House Correspondents Dinner. I saw the pearl-clutching of the CNN hosts immediately afterwards and witnessed the similarly shocked tone of the Monday morning pundits, who once again bent over backwards to be “fair and balanced” in the face of this racist, sexist, classist “administration” and its supporters, and I thanked goddess for the funny, smart and angry girls and boys coming out of the class of 2018.

Which is something I find myself doing that a lot these days: Whenever all the mean white people get the best of me, whenever I think the morons have won, people are horrible, the media is corrupt and complacent and ageism, sexism and racism is now just part of the accepted human condition, I give thanks for the rebellious energy of the high school class of 2018, many of whom will be on the front lines Friday when Trump and Pence speak at yet another NRA rally in Dallas.

So do your thing, commencement speakers. Lift them up, celebrate them, challenge them. These are brave, thoughtful young Americans, and we’re lucky to be living in their orbit.


Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected].