Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012 | 2 a.m.
I know the future. And if you pay attention to the students from this year’s Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum, you can, too.
That is a sentiment that has been understood since my father, Hank Greenspun, started the Youth Forum 56 years ago. But it has never been more true than it is today. That old line about “from the mouths of babes” has grown up as this year’s participants have shown themselves to be mature, intelligent, confident high school juniors and seniors who know their own minds and have confidence in their opinions — so much so that they are willing to change them when they hear compelling arguments to the contrary.
That is the beauty of the Youth Forum — that students can meet and discuss ideas without the older generation getting in the way. And that allows for a free and respectful exchange of ideas — which is how a democracy like ours is supposed to work!
So, how does participating in the Youth Forum as an adult moderator or watching, reading and listening to the ideas advanced by these students help us know the future?
Simple. They are the future. And the ideas they have formed, with the certainty with which they have been formed, gives us a very good idea about how the leaders of tomorrow will approach the complexities of future challenges. All they need is a few years of life experience to round out those inquisitive and capable minds.
Many of the Youth Forum participants of yesterday have grown into community, state and national leaders of today. They were the best and brightest leaders of their generation, just like the 1,000 students who filled the Las Vegas Convention Center’s meeting rooms Tuesday are this generation’s leadership core. In fact, many of the past Youth Forum participants have become the moderators of today’s forums, helping to make this program one of the best and most enduring, if not the only, program of its kind in the nation.
So it helps to know what tomorrow’s leaders are thinking — what compels them, what impassions them and what informs their thinking about any number of local, national and international issues.
I learn that every year as a moderator, and you can learn that, too, by paying attention to what they say.
I can think of a number of people who might cringe a bit if they knew everything these students were thinking, but here’s a start.
The fight over gay marriage will soon be a fight of the past. That may not be revelatory to those who have been fighting this battle for many years, but the certainty with which I know this future cannot be assailed, for it comes from the mouths of the future itself.
First, student participants were practically unanimous in their belief that the U.S. Constitution does not make a distinction between gay and straight Americans. There was a little argument about the morality of gay marriages, but there was nothing argued that would change their minds about all Americans’ rights to achieve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It is important to understand that because as these young people grow into the leadership roles of tomorrow, they will not bring with them the certainty that prior generations have had about our Constitution’s prohibitions or silence on such matters. They are coming from a very different place. And that is long before they get into the discussions of the religious orthodoxies of one generation being lost on the successive generation.
While these students come with a solid conviction of what is fair and what is not, the stark difference between them and their parents cannot be overstated. I asked my group how many believed in gay marriage and nearly all raised their hands. I then asked how many of their parents agreed with them. Barely a handful of hands went up.
The point was very clear — and it has been becoming clearer over the past few years: In matters of social policy and morality, the generation gap is widening. Rapidly. And not just regarding gay rights. Pick a subject that has moral overtones coupled with the legal certainties of the past and you will see that “the times they are a-changin’!”
We can ignore what our kids are telling us or we can learn from them. We can participate in the discussion or not, knowing that soon the decisions will not be ours to make about the future we leave our children.
The Sun Youth Forum provides an incredibly accurate glimpse into the future that we should not ignore. We should be thankful that a program like this exists, and we should thank the Clark County School District for making sure it does.
If you pay attention, you will come away with the same feeling that the moderators look forward to each year. UNLV Athletic Director Jim Livengood, who was a first-time adult volunteer, spoke for all of us when he said that the Youth Forum experience was one of the best days he has ever had. That is how each of us feels when we have spent the day with the future of this great country.
Our leaders will be bright, they will be energetic, and they will be compassionate and considerate and compelled to do what is right. How do we know? Because we saw the future this past week at the Sun Youth Forum. And you can learn the same things, too.
Read the Las Vegas Sun newspaper and lasvegassun.com to understand what your kids are really thinking. In fact, read the Sun every day. We can all stand to learn something new, don’t you think?
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.