Parents Talk Back by Aisha Sultan

Dear Class of 2020: We’re Sorry

Dear Class of 2020,

By now you’ve heard celebrities, politicians and activists tell you how your generation -- full of promise and potential -- will help fix the disastrous mess we’re in.

“This is your generation’s world to shape,” former President Barack Obama said during a televised commencement address. He cited the country’s deep-rooted problems, such as economic inequality, systemic racism and health care disparities.

You’ve been charged with changing the world, rebuilding the country, rising to the occasion, healing divides and demanding better.

No pressure or anything.

I also believe in your ability to be the generation that will transform our world for the better. Every young person I’ve met gives me that sense of hope. But just as much as congratulating and wanting to inspire you, adults in this country owe you an apology. Several, in fact. We have failed you in significant ways. So, let me apologize on behalf of all of us:

I’m sorry we subjected you to horrific school shootings and traumatic shooter drills from the time you were too young to even understand this depravity. We allowed this to continue despite knowing that improving gun laws and policies would save your lives. It’s an unforgivable disgrace that your government continues to value gun manufacturers above your lives and security. I hate that you’ve grown up in such a violent culture and country, especially when we know there are ways to make it less so.

I’m sorry we did not do a better job protecting your privacy, personal data and security from tech companies who have used it to become exceedingly rich. European countries have taken this issue far more seriously than we have. The technology that has permeated your life since birth has also exploited and exposed you to things we should have protected you from.

I’m sorry that we haven’t taken seriously the threat of climate change and the ways it will affect your future. I don’t blame you for thinking that adults who deny and ignore the world’s scientists are blithering idiots.

I’m sorry you’ve come of age seeing videos of black people being brutalized and killed by the police. I’m ashamed that we haven’t fought harder for reforms to make this country safer and more fair for people of color. The fact that black and brown people still face worse treatment by schools, employers and the law is a stain on the generations that precede you.

I’m sorry that most of you will have to take on greater debt to attend college than any of us did. I’ll never understand why adults who themselves benefited from more affordable higher education would think it’s OK for you to mortgage your futures just to get a degree.

You are old enough to know how unfair this world can be. It was our job to try to make it a little more fair, but we’ve done the opposite. We’ve made it better for the wealthy and privileged, and harder for everyone else. Because of this, you’ve seen us stressed, working longer hours and distracted too often.

You’re entering young adulthood during a pandemic that our government’s inaction made far worse than it should have been, along with widespread civil unrest, more division than most of us can remember and a tanked economy. We are giving you a weakened democracy and civil society.

You deserve so much better than this.

I hope this moment forces adults to confront how selfishly we’ve behaved. Once upon a time, when we were your age, we also dreamed of making the world a better place. I’m sorry we’ve fallen short so far.

Our one redemption may be that we’ve raised a generation who will do better.