The worst part of interviewing the best and brightest of Sonoma County’s young people comes at the moment when I remember my own high school career. Without going into detail, it can be said that I was never accused of working too hard — which makes it humbling to listen to these students describe all that they do.
Maybe that’s why I always learn valuable lessons from the high school seniors nominated by their respective schools in this newspaper’s annual Youth Service Awards program.
This year, the experience also provided welcome relief from the political news that leaves so many discouraged and anxious. Every day, we think it cannot become more bizarre — and then it does.
These local students spend their days trying to figure out how to make their schools and their communities better, and along the way, they provide lessons for all of us about idealism, generosity, selflessness and compassion.
You will notice the same qualities missing from what passes for the conduct of our nation’s business these days. As much as anything, our blustering president seems to view these values as signs of weakness.
This past week marked the 29th year that The Press Democrat has sponsored this event, created to honor community service (and not academic achievements). It turns out — no surprise — that these young people are also successful students. In all that they do, they are organized and determined.
The judges will tell you they come back year after year because the hours can fly by when you’re talking to kids who aspire to make all of our lives better. Their optimism and their willingness to work shine through.
One hundred thirty-one students were interviewed by three-judge panels last week, one panel for each of 10 categories. All of the students will be honored and 10 will be named as scholarship recipients at the annual awards ceremony (6:30 p.m. May 3 at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts).
For now, it’s enough to say that our communities are fortunate to have these students here at least for a while. We can hope they go to college and then come back to stay.
So what do we learn from these high school seniors?
Smart people recognize their own good fortune. When you listen to students describe what they do to help children living in poverty, a senior living alone, a youngster without a family or a home, or a person who is developmentally disabled, you know you’re in the presence of people who are aware that fate has been kind to them. Human services, the arts, the environment, education — whatever their individual interests, these students find ways to apply their skills to help people who are not so fortunate.
Kindness and friendship matter. As tutors, mentors and just plain friends, these students embrace their responsibilities to their classmates and to other young people.
Young women understand that there remain barriers to be overcome before they enjoy equal opportunities for success. One of those barriers, it turns out, is the notion that all those barriers have been removed.
We can do something about bullies. More students are finding ways to give aid to people who are bullied — and to encourage bullies to think about their own behavior.