WHEN THE future class of 2018 is proudly presented to assembled family and friends in the old school gymnasium, I'll probably dab a tear in wonderment. The kindergartners will look so grown up in their Sunday best with paper graduation caps adorned with tassels sporting the school colors. My Sam will stride across the stage in his prized sports coat and clip-on tie to accept his official scroll from the school principal admitting him to first grade.
But before the big day arrives in less than a week, I may daydream about what kind of life waits the class of 2018 and four years hence, when many will graduate from college in 2022. C'mon, daydream a little with me.
From the moment kids take their first shaky steps as toddlers to the moment they take their first shaky steps as young adults in the real world, parents hold their breath and pray for happily ever after.
Eventually, though, we learn we cannot protect our children from every single bad influence out there or prevent them from making the same mistakes we did or inventing their own.
But we still attempt to Saran-wrap our prodigy from the adversity that will surely cross their paths, and we still lose sleep over futures we can't control.
At least we figure the best way to prepare our kids for any eventuality is with education, but nobody wants to pay for it. Government doesn't. Property owners don't. Retired residents refuse as do those whose kids are long gone from the local school system.
Higher education is a minimal must to compete in the global marketplace, but if college tuition is oppressive in 2006, imagine - if you dare - what it will be like in 2018.
Will state-supported colleges and universities be an oxymoron by then? They already call themselves only "state-assisted." Am I overreacting to the writing on the wall?
Maybe. But when present worries and future expectations have such a personal connection, who can leave fate to chance? Who can live for only today when tomorrow is staring at you from a 6-year-old graduate?
Apparently plenty in America can. And we, as fully vested citizens of said republic, must share some of the blame for our collective indifference toward those yet to assume center stage.
Deny it if you wish, but our collective me-first attitude is evident from Main Street to Washington. Beyond the Beltway the priorities are my job, my family, my retirement, my security.
In the nation's capital the priorities of the political ruling class are likewise centered around self-preservation. Nothing particularly wrong with that unless the preoccupation with me and mine precludes any serious consideration of the greater good or passing interest in those who will inherit the earth.
Consider what we grown-ups are leaving our children and their children. The looming fiscal insolvency of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare won't dramatically affect current beneficiaries or even soon-to-be-qualifiers.
The heavy lifting will be left to the class of 2018 and those who come after. My Sam and his peers will carry the financial burden of far more retirees than any preceding generation.
Chances are the social safety net the young graduates' grandparents and parents take for granted will be history by the time the class of 2018 is ready to retire.
The problem of worker-to-retiree ratio has been building for years but as long as you've got yours, what's the urgency to adjust the parameters, raise the ceiling, or level the playing field?
Plenty of time to deal with that later.
Just ask the leaders we elect who are racking up record debt without any regard for my kid and his who will be stuck with the accounts payable. The small graduates brimming with excitement at their early success have no idea their inheritance is being spent like there's no tomorrow.
But even as the youngsters parade blissfully on their graduation night politicians determined to remain incumbents are stroking influential constituencies, paying for exorbitant tax breaks, funding a nation-building experiment, and fighting a war without end.
If Sam and his classmates are lucky, by the time they are old enough to tempt military recruiters, Iraq will be a bad memory. But if Vietnam could linger for years on false pretense, why not a pre-emptive war steeped in deceit with stakes much higher than saving Saigon?
President Bush has already predicted as much when he allowed that future administrations would likely be saddled with what he started in Iraq.
To heck with tomorrow. It's somebody else's problem, like the Class of 2018. Good luck young hearts. You'll need it.
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