BILL MOYERS: Another grandson graduated from high school this past weekend, and we were there for the festivities. From the hamburgers, hot dogs, and bratwurst, through the memories recollected with laughter and tears on the front porch long after the ceremonies ended.

I never tire of these rituals. Like the pickle relish and mustard on the bratwurst, like life itself, they are bittersweet. Nostalgia and anticipation in equal portions. Where did that little kid go? Yesterday he was squealing in the sand box, chasing the cat, soaring on the old tire swing, hanging from the elm out front, stubbing his toe, smacking his lips over the last morsel of watermelon, teasing grandma from atop the backyard slide, and begging for one more round of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Now, in blazer, tie, and white pants, trying to stifle a big grin, he marches past us with his classmates, so tall he has to duck and swipe away a vine dangling from the makeshift trellis that separates the past from the future.

The searing Minnesota sun threatened to cook us, until the headwinds of a gathering summer storm cut the heat. No one seemed in a hurry for the afternoon to end. But it was a relief when the commencement speaker, eloquent defender of the liberal arts, proved to be both wise and mercifully brief. The crowd laughed when he asked: “Have you ever found yourself saying, ‘That speech would probably have been perfect if it had been longer?’”

The school chorus, as if to tell us to relax, they know the score, belted out John Mayer’s “No Such Thing”:

"I want to run through the halls of my high school I want to scream at the Top of my lungs I just found out there’s no such thing as the real world Just a lie you’ve got to rise above."

And that’s when it hit me: how we’ve let these kids down. The mess we’ve handed them. The huge debts. An economy producing too few jobs and vast inequality. A rich man’s country with a flailing middle class. The tenuous prosperity of everyday people wiped out by Wall Street insiders and Washington hucksters, still up to their old tricks. And far below the water line, like those passengers on the Titanic, the poor, traveling as always at the cheapest rate, trapped in steerage.

How did we become a country of such ugly, stupid politics? One party, doddering and feckless; the other, radical, and reckless, and downright mean, driven by unblinking ideologues with kamikaze souls.

How did we become the United States of Denial? On the flight out, I read the report in a recent issue of the journal “Nature” by a team of 22 scientists, warning that in the lifetime of these high school graduates, Earth could reach a tipping point. As we put more and more pressure on our life support system, our crops, fisheries, and clean water, the diversity of species that enable us to be here, the planet could be plunged into uncharted territory from which there’s no return.

These scientists are parents and grandparents, too, and they reject despair. The report’s lead author told interviewers: “My bottom line is that I want the world in 50 to 100 years to be at least as good as it is now for my children and their children.” It’s not too late to change course, he says. “We are a clever species. We have the solutions to these … problems in our grasp.”

But, for the denial. I snap out of my reverie. I hear our grandson’s name being called, see him handed his diploma, watch the whole class rise, and think: “They just might do it. Just might pull us back from the edge. Get us on the right track again.”

The musicians strike up the recessional, and here they come, to applause and cheers and tears, once more through the trellis and on beyond.

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Bill Moyers Essay: Letting Down the Next Generation

As his grandson graduates from high school, Bill reflects on what we’re leaving the next generation of Americans: a country mired in debt and inequality, and controlled in large part by Wall Street insiders and Washington hucksters. Yet, Bill says, “I hear our grandson’s name being called, see him handed his diploma, watch the whole class rise, and think: “They just might pull us back from the edge.”

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