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For graduates, enough reasons to be optimistic

Students attend their graduation.

Students attend their graduation. Photo Credit: iStock

Long Island's high school graduation season has ended. The commencement addresses are echoes, the diplomas framed or stored, and the leftover food from parties thrown out. Summer shifts into gear, but this year there is a lingering nagging about what the future holds for our young people.

I hear it frequently. There is a sense that the economy is getting better, but people can slip back at any moment. The ladder of opportunity for the next generation is more wobbly than ever. Terrorists behead American hostages. Criminals use guns to commit hate crimes in churches, and on our streets. Cyber-attacks are launched against our infrastructure. And climate extremes change the weather right in front of us.

What kind of world will the Class of 2015 inherit? I am asked.

Here's my response, with empirical proof.

I've always said that we can't change the world all at once, but we can change it for one person at a time. That's why earlier this year I gave my staff an assignment: Find Long Island high schools whose students started projects to change the world -- one person at a time. The results strengthened my optimism about the future.

At Syosset High School, students raised money to pay for lifesaving surgeries for seven children around the world.

At Manhasset Secondary School, students helped one Russian girl get the lifesaving heart surgery she needed.

At Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School, students partnered with special-needs students through their best buddies program.

At Hicksville High School, one student and her friends raised enough money to send three underprivileged kids to summer camp.

When a student at Half Hollow Hills High School East found out her brother was diagnosed with a disease that causes kidney cancer, she started "Stand Up and Be Counted" challenge to raise awareness and money to research a cure.

When a teacher at Northport High School was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, his students raised more than $3 million to fund new research initiatives.

One teacher, one child, one patient at a time, these students made the world a better place. If high school and college graduates expect that they alone will make the world better for us all, they will be disappointed. If they commit to do one thing, take one action to change the world for one person, they will be satisfied for life.

At Northport High School's graduation ceremony last weekend, I shared a quote by a French political thinker, de Tocqueville, who studied America after the Revolution and published the classic "Democracy In America." He wrote: "America is great because Americans are good." After the speech, a student approached me and said, "I liked your speech congressman, except for one thing."

"What was that?" I asked.

"The de Tocqueville quote. You called him Alex. His real name was Alexis."

The world is going to be just fine.

Rep. Steve Israel is a Democrat from Huntington. This is adapted from his remarks at Northport High School.


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