Las Vegas Sun

August 2, 2014

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Where I Stand:

Youth of today give us hope for tomorrow

We have much to be thankful for in 2010.

I know it is hard to believe that statement, given all we have endured as a community and all that still lies ahead. But if it is true that there is no gain without pain, then Las Vegas should be among the biggest gainers when we come out of this economic meltdown because our community has certainly felt the pain.

As it always has been, the entire Thanksgiving week remains my favorite time of the year. The closeness of family — when possible — adds to the warmth of the holiday and focuses us on what is really important in life. Too often, especially the past couple of years, it is easier to find fault and blame others for what ails us in our personal lives and in our community endeavors. And, too often, we find some misplaced solace in that effort.

Thanksgiving causes me to focus on the positive, from which I can derive energy and desire to move forward. In short, a reason for hope that tomorrow will be better than today.

It just so happens that the Thanksgiving week in Las Vegas does provide a significant measure of hope, which should give each of us plenty of reason to believe that this great country will continue to be the place where American dreams are realized.

For six decades, the Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum has been providing an opportunity for the best, brightest and most energetic of our high school juniors and seniors to come together to share their ideas, wisdom and knowledge with one another in a setting designed specifically to showcase what they think and what they dream. It is appropriate that we meet at the Las Vegas Convention Center during Thanksgiving week because it gives me an opportunity over the weekend to give a very special thanks.

Every high school in Clark County was represented by the 1,000 students who came together Tuesday. And every conceivable piece of the melting pot that Las Vegas has become had a seat at the discussion table. Each year when I suggest that “this was the best group of students ever,” I have been right, for the young people prove more knowledgeable, engaged and determined to find solutions to problems they will inherit than those at Youth Forums immediately past.

This year was no exception. Let me say that differently. This year was exceptional because the students who shared their ideas were, without doubt, the best group I have experienced.

Start with the way they dressed — respectfully. Listen to the way they approached the opinions of others — respectfully. Listen to their ideas bubbling up from their knowledge bases, studies and inputs — different from those of just a decade ago — and the way they present them to diverse audiences — respectfully.

Yes, if there is a word that gives me great hope for tomorrow from what I heard, it is the respect that these 17- and 18-year-olds showed their colleagues, their forum moderators and themselves. It was in marked contrast to the lack of respect and civility their parents and grandparents displayed in the recent election season.

It has been a constant expectation that students would come to the Youth Forum and parrot in many respects the views of their parents. It is a natural reaction to living in the same home, listening at the dinner table to their parents’ discussion of current events and being exposed to the same “cable TV news” inputs that can color any factual discussions in the worst ways.

I noticed a change last year, and last week’s forum confirmed that these students have declared independence from the way their parents think. In fact, when you question many of the students, they will admit that their parents will not agree with their positions on a whole host of social and community issues.

When my father, Hank Greenspun, started the Sun Youth Forum, it was an effort to provide young people in Las Vegas an outlet for their ideas, a place where they could be heard, and a means by which change, however small, could be implemented. It didn’t hurt that an aggressive newspaper publisher was intent on making sure those ideas were heard and acted upon, lest the city fathers feel his daily wrath.

In 2010, there may not be a need for such tactics because these students are making themselves heard, and whether us old folks are listening or not, the power of their ideas and the logic of their arguments will carry the day.

Forty years ago, the American Legion named the Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum the best program of its kind in the country. Today, I don’t believe there is anything similar to the program anywhere else. And that is a shame. The Youth Forum and our partnership with the Clark County School District grow stronger each year because this thing works for our kids!

If you could have seen their faces light up when their minds were opened by a comment from across the room, or that sign of satisfaction that the logic of their argument carried the day, or that they found comfort in the knowledge that others from very different circumstances shared their beliefs in how to right what is wrong, you would understand how important the Youth Forum is in the lives of these students. And how important it has become in the life of this community.

The moderators are all respected members of academia, the business and charitable worlds and the political, law enforcement and judicial class. They give freely of their time and can’t wait to do it again next year. What we learn from these young people is the reason, over again each year, why we continue to work so hard to better our community. Because it and these kids are worth it.

I was struck by the words of the members of Jabbawockeez, an incredible bundle of talent that performs at the Monte Carlo. After lighting up a roomful of high-energy high school students and bringing them to their feet with nonstop entertainment, they became the “muse I saw” (there is a pun in there) when they told the kids that the only thanks they wanted for their performance was the knowledge that they would be great students and work hard to pursue their dreams.

Pretty simple. Pretty pure. And pretty nice.

And here is the best news. As parents, community leaders and anyone else looking for inspiration and something positive to believe about tomorrow, you don’t have to just read about the Youth Forum in this newspaper. You can read and hear all about it directly from the students.

Stay tuned to the Las Vegas Sun in the coming weeks. We will tell you when you can read their columns in this space, watch them on television, listen to them on the radio and learn from them in their high school publications.

I guarantee that what they have to say is far more important than what you are currently listening to, present company excluded. When you do that, you will agree with me that we have so much for which to be thankful.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.