The Power of Youth

Photos by The Photo News
I had the honor of speaking with the graduating class of the George F. Baker High School here in Tuxedo last week. It was an incredible day and I can't speak highly enough of the quality of young women and young men who walked the stage.

For those of us who don't work with young people every day, it can be very easy to become cynical as we age and forget the potential and the promise that comes with being a new graduate. We've all heard the cliches enough by now, but at the core they are true - an 18-year old American, armed with education and a work ethic, born in the 20th century literally has the entire world in front of them. Nearly anything is possible with enough time and enough effort and just enough luck.

They are entering the US economy at a very interesting time. Officially, we have been out of recession for six years now. After adjusting for inflation, US Gross Domestic Product is +13.5% higher as of first quarter 2015, growing at an average pace of about +2.2% per year. About 10.9 million more Americans are employed today compared to six years ago, and we've added about 220,000 net new jobs just about every month since.

These are all national figures, of course, and things may be moving faster or slower in different parts of the country and our state. Yet it is very difficult to look at the data and not see that things are slowly getting better for just about everyone, in spite of some trip-ups and hiccups along the way. Certainly, those arguing 4-5 years ago that we were on the verge of collapse back into a "double-dip" recession could not have been more wrong.

Photo by The Photo News
The media seem to want to put labels on this and previous generations, but I can't understand how being born in 2000 vs. 1980 vs. 1960 could possibly matter for someone with ambition and who is willing to work hard to make a difference. "Millennials" and "hipsters" are just today's "slackers" and "hippies." They will face the same challenges as generations before - how to find a job, how to contribute in a meaningful way to a community, how to keep their kids safe, where to live. The differences are all on the margins, with the great exception being early exposure and familiarity with the ever-increasing advance of technology.

A colleague who runs an investment practice close to New York City recently hired a group of interns for the summer, ages 19-21, and I called him to ask how they were doing. He was blown away by how smart, how connected, and how eager the group was to contribute and do meaningful work. "They blow the stereotypes out of the water - and what's really scary is how much they can do. Build websites, find information - things that take me hours take them minutes." My experience has been the same.

The future is always uncertain, but as a nation, our collective future looks very bright today.