It's that time of year again, when children, families and teachers leave summer days behind and take up the rhythms of a new school year. Children waiting at bus stops with brightly colored backpacks, laughing and reconnecting with friends; teachers everywhere opening carefully prepared lesson plans with high hopes for engaging every student; parents switching gears and back in the loop with others hoping the schools will do well by their children, preparing them for a bright future.
Given the events of last summer, this seasonal surge of anticipation and hope for the year ahead is more important to hold onto than ever. So many times in the past few months we have tuned in to media showing us the reality of innocent lives taken by the Syrian war, earthquakes in Italy, and deranged terrorists - seemingly everywhere, among so many other tragedies. Almost daily, we saw or read about lives and futures lost to gun violence, intentional or by a chance encounter.
I remember especially a young African-American student who escaped the killing spree on Chicago streets while at college and came home to celebrate his Mom's birthday. He was shot and killed in front of her house - not the intended target.
For years, the world's top scientists have provided indisputable evidence of the human role in climate changes that are destroying our planet. Last summer we witnessed unprecedented climate disasters - mudslides and raging wildfires, drought and water shortages, wild tornadoes and hurricanes flooding and destroying whole communities, record high temperatures on Earth. Yet our leaders pretend these are aberrations in a world unchanged.
Some citizens, frustrated and angry, have given up on government to lead us through to a better future. Of our presidential candidates, one espouses the regressive dark side of human character and division as a model for governance, while the other promises progress and tolerance through a fog of mistrust. How promising do children's futures look, what models can we offer them, when we see presidential candidates demonstrating corrupt values and poor judgment while claiming they are nothing of the sort?
But actually, I think there is promise, and hope. Look beyond the top-of-the-fold headlines focused on human scandal and tragedy and be inspired by the many, many recent stories that reflect the best in humanity. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is planning a $1 billion cleanup of abandoned uranium mines poisoning Navajo reservations. President Obama has taken executive action to protect ocean environments off the shores of Hawaii and Massachusetts. Scientists are coming closer to curing, or at least alleviating, devastating diseases such as ALS, Alzheimer's, hepatitis C, several varieties of cancer and schizophrenia. Sri Lanka has eliminated deadly malaria.
Within these organizations that seek to serve humanity, there are legions of anonymous individuals making their living doing work for the greater good. As the president of Wheelock College for 12 years, I know that each year thousands more young teachers and human service providers graduate into the world intent on doing exactly the same.
Look deeper into smaller, less flashy media stories, and you'll discover individual and group acts of natural goodness and courage. You'll find individuals running into danger to save the lives of strangers from a burning car or from flood waters; longtime residents organizing to successfully defend Muslim neighbors against hate-driven bullies; the extraordinary commitment to physical endurance and perfection of Olympic athletes but also, even more inspiring, of the Special Olympic competitors whose "can do" hearts and mindset know no limits.
Did you hear about Emma Yang, a 12-year-old girl who has created the first app to help Alzheimer's patients keep track of activities and daily needs? She did it because her grandmother needed it. And Siouxsie Downs and Conrad Farnsworth, who have created a new nuclear fusion reactor, one that doesn't destroy lives but desalinates water and reduces waste in impoverished countries?
Look around, and you'll find much happening to be excited and hopeful about, "regular" citizens acting on behalf of us all. This past summer, and already in September, I am inspired by the prevailing power of the human spirit to choose to do good. I keep in mind words from a poem by Maya Angelou: "Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I'll rise." Let us all strengthen our resolve to rise do more for the greater good and stand for our children's future.