Charles Kettering, the head of General Motors’ research laboratories, has written that the three qualities most needed by our young people are vision, imagination and courage.

He said, “Through vision they will see things as they really are. Through imagination they will dream greatly of things that may be. Through courage they will act boldly to make their dreams come true.”

I’m not the only adult who finds himself asking if America’s youth possess those qualities.

Scarcely a day passes without our hearing parents, teachers and community leaders criticizing our young folks for their irresponsibility, disregard of order and courtesy and disrespect for people or property. The criticism may often seem justifiable. But I wonder if we oldsters who are trying to shape their destinies have given them a chance to be otherwise.

How perplexing this civilization must be to the young mind. What marvelous things have happened in just the last few years. It wasn’t long ago that such things as digital photography — particularly when used with cell phones — and the Internet were mere dreams, as were many recent advances in medicine and other areas.

Our boys and girls have been growing up in this period of miraculous progress; yet the rules of conduct and the conclusions we are trying to ram down their throats are the same ones crammed down our own throats years ago.

It is true that the fundamentals of life remain unchanged, but the outward expressions of those fundamentals must constantly be tempered by the ever-changing condition of life. We have banished the chaperone but are still using the same moral code instituted with the chaperone. We have eliminated the curfew but haven’t always provided places or means of wholesome entertainment for those extra hours.

We are living in 2007, but our schools have with few exceptions the same courses as in 1977. We are living in 2007 but our churches and clubs are doing the same things to attract young people as they did in 1977.

I have faith in our boys and girls. I believe that in spite of us older ones, they do have vision. Perhaps their realization that they must think for themselves if they are to improve on our performance is what makes them appear insolent and non-conforming. I am not discouraged when a young person doesn’t take my word as truth but wants to find out for himself.

I know our boys and girls have imagination. I’ve seen what they can do with computers, and I’ve read stories they have written and looked at their science projects. The future will not be lacking in ingenious invention. And I am not discouraged because our youngsters would rather play a video game or read “Harry Potter” than take on the works of Shakespeare or any of the great American novels.

As to courage — what our boys and girls will need plenty of when they plunge into the world of tomorrow — I believe that most of them already have it, in fact. Maybe that is what the news of the war and other unhappy developments in today’s world is doing for them — teaching them that only those in life who are fit, those who are prepared, can survive.

They see that only by steadfastly enduring against repeated failures can real achievement come.

Before criticizing our youngsters too much, let us be sure that we ourselves are not antiquated, that we have given them every chance to develop the qualities Kettering named, that we are not trying to fashion new beings in obsolete molds.

We shall let them explore. Let them do creative things in their own way. Let them feel that there are plenty of opportunities to do really important things. Let them find in us a source of confidence and inspiration.

And there is something else I must tell you. I didn’t write any of what you’ve just read, except for some minor editing to disguise the fact that it was written in February 1944. My mother, Ruth Jackson Goldsworthy the English teacher, was the author. I share it with you today as further proof of what we all suspect, that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

What I know of American history suggests to me that the “oldsters” (her word) in each generation of Americans has been convinced that the next generation of Americans was going to run the country into the ground. What my mom wrote 63 years ago might easily have been written today.

And if you think things are bad now, Americans in my mother’s world of 1944 had Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan to contend with. Today, we complain about gasoline costing $3 a gallon. In 1944, folks were lucky to get gasoline at all because it was rationed.

My friends and I didn’t know everything there was to know by the time we got out of high school, and neither did you. Life is an ongoing learning process, and I am periodically astounded by the young folks I meet who are bright, eager and anxious to learn — and many of my acquaintances who work with them feel the same way. These kids could surely teach me things ... or at least remind me of things I once knew, but may have forgotten.

There are always some Americans who may never amount to much, but there are many others who have the potential for taking what we already have and building upon it.

Every generation of Americans has a core of people who keep alive the dream America was founded upon. Our most important duty is to bring that dream a little closer to reality and pass it on to those who will come after us.

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