Wondering what to tell your kids today? Try this.

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I woke up yesterday morning, the cornflower and amber sky welcoming the morning sun, backlighting San Francisco’s majestic City Hall. Tear droplets collected in the bottom of my eyelids at the sight of the red, white, and blue lights illuminating this iconic symbol of progressivism. Excitement and pride gushed inside me with the prospect of said progressivism, represented by not only the most liberal, tolerant agenda American politics has ever known, but also by a woman who I believed to represent the story of progressivism in America--for better or for worse.

But when I woke up this morning, the same scene greeting me as I walked to school, I wondered what I was going to say to my students. Similarly, tear droplets collected in the bottom of my eyelids, this time stinging and stemming from disappointment, fear, anger, and a reluctant acceptance of what has seemed to be inevitable for quite some time now.

I don’t mean Donald Trump. While Donald is horrifying, he is also a symptom of a much greater problem. Instead, what I reluctantly accepted was the fallout from something I’d seen coming for quite some time. I had thought that, in my lifetime, the America I grew up knowing would crumble underneath us, all the result of our own arrogance, greed, and perceived exceptionalism.

Many of us millennials grew up indoctrinated with this ideal of American exceptionalism. We were told that America was the greatest country on Earth--that we were a standard for freedom and democracy--when all along, we were blind to the problem that festered deep within our perceived exceptionalism. Our blissful ignorance stopped us from seeing the lack of humility and the lack of vulnerability that came as a result of this arrogance. By the mere act of describing ourselves as “exceptional,” we naturally isolated ourselves: we became intolerant, greedy, and fear-driven.

As a result, this false sense of exceptionalism has become actualized in Donald, now a symbol for America’s capitalist, intolerant, fear-driven legacy; it has become actualized in the now-threatening, nebulous, and ill-defined future--one determined to make us “great” once again, only perpetuating the exceptionalism that has gotten us here in the first place.

These thoughts all converged in my mind as I walked to school, along with the images of my students’ faces, who I knew would be looking up at me today, wondering how such a mean man could become the leader of our country. What could I possibly say to them to explain it?

I began to feel confused. How could we have missed this? How could we have been so ignorant? Moreover, I felt a sense of injustice with the palpable and unsettling realization that the responsibility to fix this mess would lie in the hands of our generations. Why did it have to be us? Why did we have to pay for the mistakes that American exceptionalism has brought us? But the truth is, it doesn’t really matter that we missed it, and it doesn’t really matter that it feels so unfair.

And that is, more or less, what I’m going to tell my children today.

It dawned upon me that, as adults, we carry an enormous burden. On our shoulders sits the weight of history, for better or for worse. We would not be where we are today if not for the triumphs and tribulations of those who came before us. And this burden that has been placed upon our shoulders--the fallout of American exceptionalism, the ignorance and greed of generations before us, and the institutional racism that plagues our society--feels utterly unfair. This is no different than generations before us, who have likewise been forced to clean up the messes of their predecessors.

This is the weight that we bear as millennials. These are the ashes in which we will plant the seeds of the future. No, we did not choose it, but we can choose how we respond to it and what we will do moving forward.

In kindergarten, we have a phrase: “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.” And it is with the intention behind this phrase that I will lead my students today. Perhaps the latter part of that statement isn’t entirely appropriate for this situation, but it’s not meant to imply a lack of emotion or a lack of action. I am upset, and I will probably continue to be for quite some time. But the mere fact that I’m upset isn’t going to change anything. Instead, it’s what I do with how upset I am that has the potential to make a change.

Our exceptionalism, our greed, and our intolerance, all shrouded in fear, a lack of empathy, and a lack of vulnerability have gotten us here. Perpetuating this cycle by lashing out angrily, building more walls, or throwing our hands up isn’t going to solve any problems. To break the cycle, we can remind our children that the reality that lies in front of us is what we have to work with, and that if we lead empathically, courageously, and with a fierce but vulnerable kindness, we can, perhaps, do something about it.

So when you talk to your children today, ask them how they feel, let them process their emotions, and maybe even share yours, as well. Honor their disappointment, their fear, and the uncertainty that comes at times like these.

But then ask them what they’re going to do about it. Remind them to lead with empathy, and to try and seek understanding. Remind them to always be kind, but even more so, to always be fiercely honest about what is important to them. Remind them that they are important--but no better than anyone else--and that the world needs them today more than it ever has before.