As a nation, we are taught to understand that it is sometimes necessary to send soldiers into harm’s way to fight for values and principles we believe are worth sacrificing for. Today, and throughout our history as a nation, young men and women have been called upon to fight in foreign lands for the advancement of democracy and to secure and preserve the religious rights and political freedoms of marginalized groups and disenfranchised individuals.
As a decorated veteran of an unpopular war in Vietnam, I went to war believing in these values and principles. Over the many years that have passed since then, I have on occasion questioned whether my military service mattered, whether the suffering, destruction and loss I saw on the battlefield served a larger purpose, or whether anything of value in America was derived from the loss of treasure and human sacrifices made in that war’s name.
Over the past month, I have watched the deadly march of the COVID-19 virus from across the world and onto our nation’s shores. The human toll wrought by the virus has now exceeded 22,000 in the U.S. Coupled with this dreadful loss of human life, the economic and social upheaval the virus has rendered is beyond anything we have witnessed in recent history.
In the face of this human suffering and social upheaval, we are witnessing across the country, I have been heartened and inspired by the selfless and heroic actions of our younger generation of Americans. Any doubts I had about what America stands for or how we as a nation care for and support each other have been answered. One need only read the daily newspaper or turn to any television station and you will see thousands of young Americans who have put themselves into harm’s way in their battle to do whatever is necessary to defeat this virus.
I see a generation who were not drafted and who did not enlist to serve in this war but who have stepped forward in cities and towns, hospitals and schools and everywhere else where they are needed in the national campaign to eradicate this virus from our country. I have watched in wonder and pride as doctors, nurses, researchers, emergency medical personnel, police, fire and military service members, truck drivers and grocery store cashiers who all have put their personal and family safety aside and, under unimaginable conditions, fearlessly faced this horrific disease in an effort to serve, support and save their fellow Americans who, without them, would surely fall victim to a virus that does not discriminate by race, color, age or economic status.
At the conclusion of the last world war, an entire generation was referred to as The Greatest Generation. Many scholars and pundits have written that that generation may have been America’s greatest. I do not agree, I believe we are now witnessing the emergence of a new generation of Americans. A generation that cannot be called anything other than, “The Amazing Generation. ” If their actions and behaviors now are any indicator, America is now and will continue to be in good hands.
Charles F. Desmond is CEO of Inversant, the largest parent-centered children’s saving account initiative in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He is past chair of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education and since 2011, has served as a NEBHE senior fellow.