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CHRISTINE PALM

Dear Graduate,

Let’s be honest – this just sucks.

For those of you graduating from high school, September is a huge question mark. Online classes while marooned at home vs. freedom on that leafy campus you dreamed about. For college grads – it’s just as bleak but in a different way: no crossing that stage in triumph – just walking headlong into a dismal job scene and, for most, crushing student debt.

What was the point of studying and learning and “bettering yourself” if it all was going to fall apart anyway? Plenty.

This pandemic will define your generations, because an emergency of this magnitude always brings out the best and the worst in people. This is the time for you to decide which kind of person you are.

I hope you are watching the brave people who are taking care of the rest of us, and that you’re learning from them. I hope you’re asking what it means to come together as a community, a state, and a nation. I hope you’re seeing the importance of shoring up our systems – economic, medical, technological, social – so this never happens again.

Most of all, what I hope you take away from this is how deeply and profoundly you matter – that you must part of the solution. That everything you learned in high school and college – not just how to answer questions but, more importantly, how to ask them – must be part of strengthening our world. Not just for you, but for the person standing next to you, and yes, for all the people you will never meet in your lifetime.

If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we are connected to one another by a thread of humanity. It is frayed and frail just now. Will you leap in and help strengthen it by winding around it the fiber of your considerable knowledge? Will you test its flexibility with your young energy? Will you hang on tight to it even though despair has made you weary?

You are far from powerless. In fact, as Millennials and members of Gen Z, you hold the future in your hands. With your combined political clout, your generations can, quite literally, change the course this country is on. Together, you will make up 37 percent of voting adults, with Gen Z alone comprising 10 percent. Why does this matter? Because your generations are the most diverse, tolerant, best-educated and most open-minded in history. And this terrifies the power structure.

If you will be 18 on November 3, you’ll have the opportunity to cast the most important vote of your lifetime. If you’ll still be too young for this election cycle, urge everyone you know to vote. Don’t make the mistake of dismissing politics as boring or pointless – elected officials make the laws that govern your life. So, pay attention to local elections and consider volunteering for a political candidate you believe in. Ask the people running for office where they stand on the issues that directly affect you: college debt, healthcare, tax inequity, the gender wage gap, gun violence, unaffordable housing, human rights, and climate change. If you don’t like what you hear, challenge them.

Most of all, please don’t let despair overtake you – take the time you need to chew on your anger for a while, roll it around and around inside and then, when you’re ready, spit it out into a big, beautiful ball of action. After all, that’s the real meaning of commencement: to begin. It’s time to start what Congressman John Lewis called “the good trouble, the necessary trouble.” And you are exactly the folks to do it.

Christine Palm is the State Representative for the 36th General Assembly District, which includes the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex and Haddam.

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