By Robert Reich
What’s the single most important thing that keeps me optimistic about the future? To put it simply: my students.
I’ve been teaching on and off for the last forty years. Teaching is one of the most gratifying and joyful professions I can imagine. And in all my years of teaching I’ve never taught a generation of students more diverse, more intelligent, and more committed to the public good than the generation I’m now teaching.
This isn’t just at Berkeley. In the years leading up to the pandemic I often guest lectured around the country, typically at colleges known as “conservative” (in fact, I’ve made it a practice of accepting invitations from universities in red states). And you know what? I’ve found the same qualities in those students I’ve found in my students at Berkeley. Not only are there more students of color. Also more women (today, 60 percent of undergraduates are women!). More who are the first in their families to attend college. And a profound sense that they want to improve the nation and the world.
I consider myself privileged because I find it impossible to be downbeat or pessimistic about what’s to come because of these young people. They know they’ll be inheriting huge problems – structural racism, widening inequality, threats to democracy, public health crises, deep distrust toward all institutions. But they are determined to remedy them. Not all, mind you. But even if a small percentage dedicate their lives to improving our society and healing the world, they will make a stunning difference.
May I ask: What makes you optimistic about the future?