To the graduates of 2020: You have shown us how to do it.

You are active in all the best senses. Activators. Getting stuff done. A generation of activists.

Liz Cotter Schlax, President and CEO of United Way of Greater Portland

You have voiced your concerns. You’ve spoken your truth. You’ve encouraged others to speak theirs. You’ve shared your opinions and challenges. You’ve worked hard to crush stigma.

You are digital natives. You have created your own apps. You have taught older generations how to use FaceTime and make TikToks. You’ve created Hollywood-quality movies for friends, classes and for fun.

You demonstrate respect and accept individuals for who they are and who they want to be.

You’re involved, engaged, caring and open. There’s room for everyone in your world. You care about community. You seek purpose.


Your parents’ generation may have the most visible leadership titles in your world – your teachers, administrators, clergy, elected officials and bosses. But your generation has already taken the lead – against, among other things, climate change and gun violence, for racial and gender equality, and LGBTQIA+ and refugee rights.

Your generation is exceptional in many ways, not least of which is your experience digging into issues, listening to various perspectives, challenging the status quo and collaborating with others toward solutions. You understand how truly connected we all are. These are key skills in life – for your own success and for our society’s.

As you take your next steps into higher education, training for your chosen career, or into the workplace, please use these well-honed skills and work to further develop them. As you do, you will build on your already potent leadership capacity. Not only will you be setting yourself up for a meaningful and rewarding future, but also, you will be providing the kind of community leadership we need.

We are counting on your spirit of inclusivity and collaboration, your technology skills and your demonstrated interest in taking action for things you care about. We’re counting on your caring.

Already you are on the path to garnering those visible leadership titles, but more importantly, you are already taking the lead. When we see what your generation has already accomplished, without having graduated from high school, we are not only awed, but inspired. Onward, Class of 2020! We’ll be watching, cheering and following your lead.

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