Sitting in my home office, one of millions appropriately practicing social distancing and adjusting to a new way of life in the face of the Coronavirus, I see a country confronted with one of the most uncertain and difficult times many of us may have faced. At the same time, I am also reminded of our history as a country, and the incredible dedication and contributions of the Greatest Generation.
Tom Brokaw, author of the 1998 book, “The Greatest Generation” profiled the brave Americans who came of age during the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II, as well as those who contributed to the war effort on the home front. Brokaw wrote that these men and women fought not for fame or recognition, but because it was the “right thing to do.”
My dad, a U.S. Marine Iwo Jima survivor, passed away last year at the age of 95. My brothers and I always understood how difficult his early years were, being raised as an orphan. And then suddenly, at 19 years of age and confronted with the need to defend our country, he bravely and patriotically volunteered to enlist and do what had to be done.
As I reflect on what my dad and so many others did to preserve our way of life, and as we engage all our available resources, our President has rightly characterized this work to protect our country and defeat the “invisible enemy” as a true war effort. We are already seeing in New York City, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Houston, among others, that we have a lot of work to do very quickly if we are going to save lives. Given what may well be ahead of us, I think we have a unique opportunity to add to our resource base with a segment of our population that might well be able to make us proud of their work and help to make an important difference in the final outcome of this terrible virus.
It occurs to me as schools have closed either permanently for the academic year, or temporarily with final decisions to be made in the weeks ahead depending on the progress of the virus, that we have a cohort of high school seniors, most of whom are now adults of 18 years of age, and college seniors as well, who are available to assist today, should they choose to do the right thing. The high school and college seniors who are already at home and out of school are ready to graduate now. Regardless of final local and state decisions to cancel respective academic school years, these students have likely learned almost all they need to know as they wind down a very different and challenging school year and are within just a couple of months of graduation.
So, issue them their “virtual diplomas” right now, with well-deserved formal graduation ceremonies later when it’s safe to so. We have two potential benefits that would come from this action. First, we can set our high school and college seniors on a course to immediately contribute to a wide range of efforts to defeat the virus. My bet is, with time of the essence, we might even advance the pace of our military, medical, and first-responder ranks at a time when we need healthy and highly motivated young adults more than ever. For those who have chosen to advance their education beyond high school or their undergraduate work, before they head to their next academic level, there is still time to volunteer to help those in need in their local communities, and maybe even take on roles in essential businesses that are in need of additional workers due to illness-related staff reductions. Second, if we are able to re-open some schools this academic year, the advanced graduation of our senior classes will reduce our student populations and facilitate social distancing in classrooms, knowing that in the next few months our guard will still need to be up to prevent or reduce chances of contagion associated with a returning virus wave. Our schools can easily verify the work of their graduates, and for those who choose to rise to this important occasion, they should be granted State and Federal Commendations for their much-needed contributions.
What is ahead is uncertain, and we need to consider every available option to keep our country healthy and our economy strong. We hope we will be blessed enough to flatten the curve and re-open the country for business sooner rather than later. If we are, this action will still result in a very special class of high school and college seniors who are steeled, experienced, and who will have contributed in an unexpected but very patriotic way. It will help build character and self-esteem that prepares them for whatever might be ahead. Either way we should consider this as an opportunity to begin to create “The Next Greatest Generation.” It’s the right thing to do. And as my 18-year-old granddaughter mentioned, this just might be the opportunity for her generation to step-up and help.
Michael J. Roman
President, CertainPoint Strategies L.L.C
Non-resident Senior Fellow, American Council for Capital Formation, Washington, D.C.