I have immense respect for Joe Klein, who wrote the 2011 Time magazine article “The New Greatest Generation.” I often reread that piece, not as an affirmation of what I or we’ve accomplished but as a reminder of what’s expected of us.
In April, I spoke in front of 700 veterans, cadets, and other distinguished guests at my alma mater, the University of Southern California. I recounted my own personal journey and the importance of military service to become the man I hoped I could be. I spoke of respect to the men and women who wear the uniforms of our Armed Forces. However, it’s not lost on me that the prospect of serving and becoming part of the “New Greatest Generation” might be a huge reason young adults choose to serve in the first place. After all, so much has been said about the skills and intangibles gained out of our nation’s two longest wars, and yet, many of them will not see the battlefield, which was all but guaranteed to those who enlisted in the aftermath of 9/11.
So how do we EARN the distinction of the New Greatest Generation? The answer is the same for those who’ve served in combat. The truth is (and Joe mentions this in the article), the distinction is possible, not guaranteed, and arguably not even probable. There’s a lifetime of work we must put in to earn that designation. However, this isn’t something unique to veterans. Civilians alike own the responsibility in becoming the New Greatest Generation. Through bridging the civilian-military divide, honing skills in cross-sector leadership, and working tirelessly for justice in our country, we can inherit the title.
The steps I outlined for those in attendance that evening seemed directed at them, but my words aren’t necessarily new or unique. They could be applicable to any man, women, or child seeking to make this world and our country better than it is today. And so, I’ll end with my closing and ask that you simply “find your purpose. To live with intent. To become expert at your craft and use that expertise for good. To always toil to serve others. If you fall short on any one of those duties then collectively we will not live up to the moniker that has been so graciously—yet prematurely—bestowed upon us.”