The Qualities of Youth

In many ways, Senior Week represents a bridge between childhood and adulthood, filled with activities ranging from picnics and amusement park trips to gambling and the reliving of epic college nights. The week leading up to graduation is a time for seniors both to remember the experiences that defined childhood and reflect upon how views of the world have evolved during these formative years.

As Harvard students, we have each sought to have our voice heard in our own way. For some, this has meant redefining course expectations through high academic achievement or setting athletics records during games or tournaments. More often than not, this has also meant taking upon a campus issue, local initiative, or global concern and channeling that passion into change. Of course, whatever avenue of “voice” students choose, a common obstacle is the presence of leadership that dismisses youth as inexperienced or rebellious.  

Yet, as you have proven, these stigmatized, “immature” views have the power to influence and impact society on a variety of levels. In this past semester alone, peers have launched Sex Week to raise awareness of sex and sexuality, created a socially responsible investment campaign—the Fair Harvard Fund—to inform Harvard Management Corporation’s investment strategies, and organized Harvard for the Horn to address the famine and humanitarian crisis in Northeast Africa. By volunteering, organizing, rallying, protesting, occupying, and now graduating, you have repeatedly demonstrated the ability of youth to address societal problems and to work with adults to produce collaborative solutions. Your work, as well as the work of youth before us, has exemplified the importance of youth engagement in policies that directly affect us.  

In his Day of Affirmation speech, Robert F. Kennedy ’48 stated, “This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure of the life of ease.” As you venture outside Harvard’s gates and join the ranks of world leadership, do not forget the fresh perspective and passion that defined your time within the gates. Your views will naturally evolve with the experiences and opportunities that await you, so continue to complement your youth views with graduate, real world perspective.

The real world needs not only the qualities of the youth, but also adult decision-makers that actively listen to the youth. When new perspectives fall on deaf ears or are simply dismissed with a “wait until you’re older,” they fail to produce the innovative, collaborative solutions we seek. Therefore, we call on all of you to make a commitment to your current selves. Incorporate the voices of youth into decision-making processes. In your positions of leadership across the globe, remember how you had to fight to be heard during your college years. And, as you walk back through Harvard’s gates at class reunions, remind yourself of the need to engage young people to create innovative solutions to shared challenges.

After Senior Week, the graduation ceremonies in Tercentenary Theatre, and your House courtyard, society will accept your diploma as a pass to leave Harvard’s gates and enter the real world. However, this real world won’t be broadcasted on Music Television. You only live once, so seize the imagination of those who are still in the “best years of their lives” when you are past your own. Take a minute to record and instill in your mind the fire and passion that defines you today. Seek out that same spirit in the youth of tomorrow.  

Until then, keep reliving your childhood experiences, appreciating all that you have gained from obtaining your degree, and ruffling feathers with elders.

Danny P. Bicknell ’13, current Undergraduate Council president, is an environmental science and public policy concentrator in Mather House. Pratyusha Yalamanchi ’13, current Undergraduate Council vice president, is a human evolutionary biology concentrator in Dunster House.

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