In a few months, my “son” Johnny will be graduating from Liberty University, and entering into the Air Force as a second lieutenant. For the record, I have no children of my own, but am the legal guardian of a 22-year-old named Johnny and his 20-year-old sister Laila. I write this thinking of you both and the world you will soon enter. And it takes me back to my youth and how much things have changed, and yet how some things still remain the same.
And as you both enter into the world – please take these words with you:
1) Be proud of where you live – when you see an injustice, try to make it right.
Currently there is a movement afoot to teach us that America was never really that great, and that because of our “racist past” that we should not think of our country as special. It pleases me to no end that neither of you have bought into this silly notion. Has this country committed great sins? Yes we have. Our treatment of Irish slaves, African American slaves, the Native Americans, and some Japanese-American citizens in WWII will forever be a stain on our national reputation. However unlike most, we have tried to atone for our sins and we have always been a welcoming country. We have admitted our sins and tried to make things right, which is much more than I can say for pretty much every other nation. There is a good reason that so many want to come into this country.
2) Try not to lose the innocence of youth.
I think back often to 1980 now, and the national mood. Because of wage and price controls set upon us by Jimmy Carter, we had a horrible economic situation called stagflation – double-digit inflation along with economic stagnation. The Iranian mullahs had invaded our embassy and kidnapped the diplomats and staff, and the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan. The average American person was in a state of shock and despair. Then, at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, something unthinkable occurred. The American team, which was little more than a group of college all stars, beat the Soviet team in hockey – and later won the gold medal. The Soviets were grown men and professionals, the Americans mostly came from the University of Minnesota and Boston University. Miracles can and do occur. However, as you will go from being young adults to adults, often we lose our ability to dream big. Watching that hockey game in 1980, I knew like any 15- year-old would know that the Americans would win. If that game would happen today, likely I’d analyze the game as an adult in my mid 50s would and thus talk myself out of thinking that the impossible could occur. Never lose this quality about yourself – only by dreaming big can big things occur. To this day I still tear up when watching the final 10 seconds of the “Miracle On Ice.”
3) Last but not least – disagree without being disagreeable.
One of the hardest lessons in life is the concept that people can have a legitimate disagreement and not hate each other. Our political climate today is wrought with people thinking that the best way to show passion is to demonize anyone who may disagree with them. People in both political parties are guilty of this. Being a jerk toward another does not make you more ideologically pure. To the contrary, it makes you less able to convince someone that your position is right. Learn the art of subtle persuasion. It may not be as much fun as calling your opponent a “jerk” in the short term. But long term this will be the better way to win people over to your side of a disagreement.
I love you both dearly and am a better man for having raised both of you and watched you grow. This world will be a better place because both of you are in it. You will make your generation and my generation proud.