To the Class of 2020 … and all that are to follow

I often smile that I am early for the future and late for the present, and once again that is true, as most the virtual ceremonies and drive-by neighborhood parades have passed. But having just read a few tweets about yesterday’s NYT Pandemic deathtoll headline, I am compelled to toss my thoughts into the graduation mix as you frame your story and your moment in history.

While it is true that you were born just before or after 9/11 (one of my three children was 8mos old at the time and I remember that morning in vivid detail) and that you are graduating now during the most unsettling time in a generation, I invite you to consider that you have been anointed and uniquely groomed for change. You have not been robbed of a predictable journey; you are being shaped to build the new. As every industry around you — including education, retail, IT services, supply chain and even government itself— is being redesigned, you are being cut loose from out-dated thinking that has focused primarily on economic growth at the expense of so many equally important issues such as environmental, physical and emotional health and stability. Imagine that the world just leapt ahead five or ten years in its understanding of what must come now, which means that you are being given a huge springboard for reinvention!

And you have what it takes to harness the extraordinary technological prowess waiting at your doorstep… advances in Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Bio-engineering, Cryptography and even someday soon Quantum computing will up-end every single industry, and freed from legacy beliefs and with a deeply grooved sense of empathy, compassion and camaraderie, you will be the most prepared generation ever to take these forward boldly and safely.

I am truly sorry you missed you last sports game, a prom and senior signing day. I know it feels scary to have an internship or job offer frozen indefinitely. And I am so sad for those of you who have had to watch family members suffer through this moment of dramatic change, illness and unknown. But I guarantee you, this experience — and all you have had to make sense of so far, from classroom shootings to raging fires to the power one person has to make a difference or start a march — will make you the exact leader and innovator the world needs NOW.

Your attention has been pulled to experience the pros + current cons of remote work/school/medicine/social life, and you will no doubt create better. Your ingenuity recreated campuses in Mindcraft. You witnessed the brilliant reimagining of Drive-In weddings, restaurants that pivoted quickly to selling meal kits and corporations that redirected manufacturing to make masks, sanitizer and ventilators. I hope you have been moved by the stories of beautiful generosity, caring and connection. And fwiw, you have had the benefit of hearing every commencement speech, not just your own.

So many of us are tuning into your story and are forming a global cheering squad as you realize how tall you can now stand. You will not have to wait for your place at the table: it is being set for you as we speak.

You are being baptized for impact, my friends.

So take a long deep breath. Take care of yourself and those around you. Let yourself mourn that which was lost for a bit longer, but then let it go… and start getting really curious about what is happening just over the horizon. Step into the light that is to come. I am a futurist. I’m currently working on a project that imagines the world fifty years from now which includes everything from regenerative communities to bionic eyes and potential neural implants. That has the potential to harness both algorithms and 3D printing to provide dignified and safe housing and healthy foods to everyone. A future focused on eliminating over 16,000 diseases and envisions that aging could be reversed altogether. One that radically challenges current models of work and economic accounting, And one that will see another 3 billion brains connect to digital technologies, enabling them to share their big ideas with the entire world.

As you quickly add to this list of innovations in your own minds, you can begin to also see the moral and ethical challenges to be addressed. You might get a sense that not all are excited about these gigantic shifts and may perceive it as losing power versus gaining a new opportunity. But this won’t scare you the way it will those who have been coddled by a sense of entitlement and ease. You instead are forging the grit and will to embrace the liberty of ambiguity that is necessary to create better solutions ahead.

Class of 2020+, while it may be difficult to see past the unsettling smoke of the moment, believe that the world is opening for you. Be really curious and open to new ideas. Ask important questions. Be kind and hold each other well. Locate your north star, and start walking. Trust while the map of how “it was supposed to be” is now gone, you have an informed, sensitive compass with which to explore the terrain of “what can be” … with so many of us to help you find your way.

Know that your story isn’t sandwiched in-between two important world events; it is being forged, shaped and uniquely rocket-fueled because of them.

Congratulations. Your day is here and I am clapping really loudly for you.

described as endlessly optimistic, Nancy is a strategic futurist, gatherer and author of LeaderING: The Way Visionary Leaders Play Bigger (avail Feb 14, 2021)