College visits show the kids are alright

I’ve read a few polls indicating Americans believe future generations will be worse off than the current one. That’s a sobering, depressing thought.

The world seems on its heels in the face of COVID, racial unrest, political dysfunction, economic uncertainty and war. Reeling from the failures of our bedrock public and private institutions and those who lead them. We worry about our country’s youth — our children and grandchildren — and pray they’ve steeled themselves for the Herculean world challenges ahead.

I have three children. All three in the eye of the storm, if you will. Last summer I took college visits with my 17-year-old. She’s an “old-soul.” Serious, focused, goal-oriented and no-nonsense, but laughs at herself and the world around her. She loves baseball and breaks all the Chicago Cubs news in our household (she’s quite fond of Dansby Swanson.)

We toured three campuses, two just before classes officially started. Libraries were full and quietly buzzing. Laptops open, keyboards clicking. Study groups gathered in quiet out-coves preparing to tackle the semester’s syllabus. A business school was readying the next wave of C-suite leaders and entrepreneurs, from economic theory to ethics, in a packed lecture hall. We wandered through a bustling campus bazaar where students recruited for various clubs, volunteer opportunities, political groups, non-scholarship sports teams, performing arts, studying abroad, research of all kinds and important civic work.

Each campus exuded energy: a push for new experiences, a thirst for gaining knowledge and understanding, to advance all that’s good and required to preserve civil society. I envied them all, students and professors alike.

On the final day of our trip, we walked a main quad following an early dinner. The school’s jogging club blew by us — maybe 100 runners — while others headed off to study with over-stuffed backpacks in tow. A man of stature, dressed in khakis, a blue button-down shirt and sharply shined loafers walked only yards in front of us welcoming students to the university. He stopped and chatted, asking where they were from, if they had everything they needed and departed with a few albeit meaningful words of encouragement. One young co-ed sheepishly asked her friend “Who was that?” He friend remarked “That’s the Chancellor!” And they both shared a smile.

It occurred to me these young men and women weren’t only ready to take the future head-on, they were eager for the challenge. Their energy, hope and determination, sprinkled with a bit of necessary naivety, was palpable. And my daughter? She was wide-eyed and excited but not overwhelmed. She belonged. Her mind whirring about the possibilities as we talked about what she envisioned for her future.

Perhaps every generation worries about those to come and hopes the world they leave behind is better than the one they inherited. That chapter is yet unwritten for us. But I can say with confidence the kids are alright. We are in good hands. I saw that clearly for three days last summer.

— Kevin Cook of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email him at [email protected].