Sunday, May 22, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Where are tomorrow’s leaders?
We constantly ask ourselves that question as more and more of today’s leadership either retires from the scene or fades away in a more dramatic fashion. And as each generation makes way for the following one, it is appropriate and necessary to ask in the hope that the answer will be self-evident. When it is not apparent, only despair can follow.
I am here today to tell you not to despair. Although Las Vegas has been and is still going through the kind of tough times that can and have made grown men weep, there is plenty of reason for hope. I usually write similar words after School District administrators, teachers, other adult moderators and I spend a day with 1,000 of Clark County’s best and brightest high school students at the Sun Youth Forum. The students’ optimism, intelligence and quest for knowledge, coupled with a strong dose of common sense, would give anyone concerned about the future of this great country every reason to believe that all will go well when we are long gone.
What has always troubled me, though, is the gap between those in high school and those who are ready to retire to other challenges. For in that vast middle lies a generation of Americans who are just starting to come into their own, their mettle not yet tested and their motives still somewhat suspect.
On Friday, I had a taste of that great middle ground, and I found it most refreshing and very heartening, at least if minor issues like the future of this country, our children and grandchildren and the world are of any significant concern.
Three of my very dear friends, Norm Brownstein, Steve Farber and Frank Schreck, combined their considerable legal and community talents a few years ago to form a powerhouse national law firm with one of its major centers of focus in Las Vegas. Their law offices are in Las Vegas’ first green high-rise building downtown, and they have built a firm that lives how it preaches and strives to find a better way for all of us to live in these increasingly complicated times.
The senior partners also exhibit great taste from time to time in the quality of people they invite to have lunch with the younger partners of the firm in an effort to help inculcate the younger legal eagles in the ways of Las Vegas.
That should explain why I was guest of honor for the these shareholders, who thought I could impart some wisdom their way which, in turn, would help them become the kind of long-term citizens that Southern Nevada so desperately needs. Please refer back to the “quality of people” comment in the last paragraph.
I am not sure what those young lawyers learned, but I know what I took away from that lunch meeting. First, if you want to lose weight, try to answer questions from eight bright and committed Las Vegans for two hours. There is no time to eat your lunch and, besides, when you do get to take a bite, your food is cold. The best you can do is eat half.
More important, though, I learned that there are people in their 30s and 40s who want very much to make this community a place where they can properly raise and school their children. And where the values they learned in their own hometowns can transfer to a place that some still call Sin City, and where medical treatment and cultural opportunities rival those in the more established parts of this country.
What I learned is that the attitude and desire to make this city that beacon on the hill is not limited to just a few well-educated and deeply committed lawyers, but that it exists throughout the next generation. The challenge, though, is how to expose that desire to do good and to do right to the realities of life so that things can and will change.
I don’t remember whether it was Kate Lowenhar-Fisher or one of her colleagues who asked me about the concept of bravery when it comes to standing up for what is right in Nevada. I know Albert Kovacs spoke for many when he brought up the risk of making a mistake. You can’t learn anything, of course, unless you are willing to try and miss, he acknowledged, but no one wants to get out front and strike out.
That seemed to sum up the political back and forth in Carson City over whether and how much to fund the struggling higher and lower education system. Although my luncheon companions acknowledged their commitment to public schooling, it was clear that when push comes to shove, every parent’s first obligation is to his children. If you can afford it and the public options aren’t good, private school is preferable to any kind of public school martyrdom.
These lawyers are brave in their fields of the law, but what they were searching for was not only the “how to” lesson for standing up and doing what is right for themselves and their families but also for what is right for their community.
I think it was Adam Segal who represented a prevalent viewpoint in Las Vegas today. Isn’t it enough that I do what I think is important for my family, he said. I wish I had thought of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” or the recent movie that tried to depict that message from a half-century ago. What I suggested was that we should be able to do both. Do what is right for our own families and do what is right for the broader community because the two are inextricably linked.
In today’s messed-up political world, Rand’s ideas of a noncommunistic reality have been perverted to suggest that we are all in this for ourselves. Is it no wonder that the selflessness of the Greatest Generation has given way to the selfishness of this not yet very great Baby Boomer Generation? When business owners are telling us that education and other quality-of-life measurements are important to their decisions whether to move here, how can we say that the jobs those businesspeople will create are not in our own narrow interests? Those folks will hire our children — if we educate them properly! And yet, a much more narrow focus on the revenue to invest in that education keeps us from making the right decisions.
The message I took from that gathering is that these young people — the ones who represent the next generation of leadership in Nevada — are prepared to make the difference that this community needs to grow for the next 50 years. We older folks would be well-advised to help them do that.
This was the kind of business lunch I would recommend to any of my contemporaries who worry more than usual these days. It was the kind of lunch where tomorrow’s leaders hang out.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.