This is it. The end. I’m not going to be around anymore to nag you about low birth rates, shrinking populations out west, and the inevitability of change and its costs and responsibilities. No more scoffing at ridiculous claims about the sanctity of free enterprise without government interference while watching lobbyists, entrepreneurs and local boosters line up every year in Topeka to get the legislature to expand, maintain or create another avenue for private benefit at public expense.
Instead, I want to tell you about the good impressions Kansas has made on me in my 20 years of living and working here. First and foremost, it has been my great privilege to personally interact with some remarkably fine people. Many of them have been public figures, and those people have reinforced in me the belief that the crudeness, vitriol and visceral animosity expressed by so many of the sensation-mongering, babble-first and feel no remorse faces and voices that dominate our public sphere are of no importance. Pay attention to the people who go about their work with seriousness, good will and knowledge. Ignore the loudmouths, me-firsters, fear-thy neighbor and us-against-them nitwits who are always available to distract and incite.
And your sons and daughters are great! I’ve taught 20 years at a small, public institution that continues its existence in the Kansas soil of its founding over 150 years ago. The greatest share of the kids I’ve taught have been products of the local K-12 educational systems. There are not a lot of class valedictorians, or National Merit Scholars, or kids “born with a silver spoon” in their mouths. We get more of those three types than most people know, but by-and-large we get the kids who “hoped” they’d go to college rather than knew it all their young lives.
Kids today are more distracted and less academically able in some ways, however, they use and understand communication technologies that are making such sweeping changes that a new social and economic revolution is at hand. They are certainly more conscious of and concerned about what is happening to this tiny blue space ship we call Earth than my generation was on the first Earth Day. The Great Recession of a decade ago deeply affected them. Many of these kids are much more vocational and economic security oriented than I, as an academic, would wish they were. I worry that many are missing this never to be repeated opportunity of having four years to explore as much of the world’s knowledge as possible before taking up the mundane chores of their next 40 or 45 years. Having seen most of them accomplish great things in this transitional period of college life, I have great confidence. If the rest of you have the good sense to make a space for them and give them the room to prosper, this will be the generation that raises the angle of the line marking the future progress of the Sunflower State. Good luck to you all.
Dr. Mark Peterson has been teaching political science for 30 years and writing for Insight Kansas since 2012. He is retiring and this is his last column.