Lily Tomlin once said, “no matter cynical you are, it’s never enough to keep up.”
Looking around, it’s not hard to agree with that sentiment. Particularly in this election year, with the two corrupt and despised apparent candidates for President; with promises and threats made to various ethnic and interest groups, where bathroom use and walls push aside issues of war and peace, climate change, and economic inequality; and with mass media that promotes conformity, fear, and sensationalism for profit – all of it is enough to result in a deep cynicism and pessimism about the future.
But then there are moments, or in this case three hours, where hope for the future can be restored.
Last night, my wife and I attended Peninsula High School’s presentation of the musical, Les Misérables and I came away from it renewed with an understanding that youth always brings the promise of a brighter future.
Watching those bright eager faces as they portrayed characters experiencing the injustices, cruelty, and idealism of revolutionary France brought laughter and tears. But beyond that was an understanding of the amount of work these actors, musicians, and technicians put into the effort that was all left on the stage. They held nothing back.
And meeting and congratulating them after the musical, up close after they shed their on-stage makeup and roles, they were proud but still self conscious teenagers.
They are all from what’s been called Generation Z (born 1995-2012), and if the backdrop of their lives – (perpetual war, hyper consumerism, breakdown of economic fairness and opportunity, fracturing of society along political and social identity, and intrusive media and government) – has seemed remote or irrelevant except to their parents and teachers, perhaps this musical has opened the door to them understanding what’s beyond their classrooms and homes.
We heard from a friend that at rehearsals their faculty director coached them that they needed to move with wretchedness and despair; playing prostitutes or idealists facing their own deaths on the barricades are not occasions for levity. From what they put on the stage they learned their lesson well.
As they move beyond this musical and high school, they will each in turn enter the next stages of their lives. As with all previous generations they will find happiness and sorrow, comedy and tragedy, and some measure of success and some measure of failure.
But that is all in the future. For in that bright crescendo moment last night, they all showed they have the power and opportunity to change the world and be something bigger then themselves. By starting with what they gave us last night they can make this a better world by embracing the best and rejecting the worst of the human experience.
And if I could wish one thing for each of them for reminding me again that the promise of the young offers hope for a better world, it would be that all their hopes and dreams come true.