Hope springs eternal.
To believe that in the Internet Age when every inhumane transgression is amplified and sent to every nook and cranny of the plant at the speed of light is a stretch for many of us.
That’s especially true when we read of how 18-year-olds that should be posed to take on the world are killing others for looking at them the wrong way, wearing the wrong colors, or because someone is wearing pricey basketball shoes that they want.
Those that aren’t self-contained mini-crime sprees sometimes leave the impression they are self-centered narcissists, addicted to smartphones that they don’t appreciate the value of, have no idea what is meant by delayed gratification, and generally act like they are entitled.
Before you start writing off the world let me share the story of eight young men and women who are 18 — or a couple of months shy or beyond — that are arguably the norm.
Let’s start with Edvin Pepic.
He’s worked as a site coordinator for Give Every Child a Chance and has his own groups of kids he tutors.
One of them is autistic.
Edvin considers it his biggest thrill to see the young boy’s eyes light up and a goofy grin come across his face when he realizes he has figured out the answer. The young boy — in Edvin’s own words — has a “passion for learning that is unrivaled.”
Even so, the young boy hit a brick wall when it came to his multiplication tables. He proclaimed after weeks of frustration that he was never going to get them and that was that.
Edvin wouldn’t let the young boy give up on himself. Eventually he helped the young boy break the barrier. He was soon flying through his multiplication tables.
Edvin instilled in the young boy that he should never give up.
But that was a small gift compared to what Edvin got.
It made him realize how fortunate he was.
“I was blessed to be born healthy,” Edvin wrote. “I had no excuse not to try my best.”
Edvin wants to become a lawyer. He talks of “the beauty of law” where — in its purest form —justice and equality trump all of the pretenders of wealth, status, skin tone, and even faith for everyone to be treated the same.
I almost forgot to mention. Edvin and his family are refugees from civil war turmoil in Eastern Europe.
Then there is Kayleigh Spraggins.
She says for much of her childhood she saw no value in school noting “there was no one to guide me on the path.”
Then in the 8th grade she started to hit her stride. She made the honor roll. By her freshman year, she was stepping it up. Kayleigh became involved in FFA and was raring to tackle new challenges.
But then the unplanned happened. She became pregnant her sophomore year. Soon she was in independent study and then her son was born. After five months she realized she couldn’t teach herself. What she needed was a school with all the bells and whistles. She made a hard decision and put her son in day care so she could go to Calla High. Then she got extremely sick putting back her goal of graduating at a set date. Then she was slammed with the emotional hammer of the father of her son breaking up with her. But she didn’t let that stop her even though she was on her own for taking care of her son.
Kayleigh is heading for American River College for certification in juvenile justice before enrolling in the San Joaquin Valley Academy for correctional officer training. While she admits her life right now is controlled chaos, she sees the tough road she is on now as an essential journey to a place where things will one day be somewhat easier and she can provide a life for herself and son.
Elizabeth Morowit is guided by the words of Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
That philosophy has been reflected in her community service. It is also an extension of upbringing. Her mother is an immigrant from Cuba. Her father’s family came to America in 1900 from Russia via Ellis Island.
She intends to become a teacher so she can give of herself to others.
Miguel Ceja understands what a “complete lack of money” means but he’ll be the first to tell you that’s not nearly as bad as not having hope.
Miguel and his family immigrated to the United States from Mexico. As age 13 he went to work on weekends shoveling mud and feces from horse corrals into a wheel barrel and dumping at a remote place in the property. It earned him $40 a weekend. That allowed him to pay for club fees and to play sports.
He got a second job at age 15 as a frozen yogurt jockey. The money paid for shoes and such needed for four seasons of track and three cross country seasons. It helped pay for his lab supplies in Advanced Placement chemistry and cover the cost of things most of us would never expect a teen to have to pay for.
Miguel was selected is junior year to attend a Rotary Youth Leadership camp. It was there that he said he was surrounded by fellow teens who were “unsatisfied just to be faces in the crowd.” He was also struck by their unselfishness and their desire to apply themselves to help others.
Miguel is plotting a post high school journey to take him to a career as a cardiologist.
Aiko Jones doesn’t like taking “no” for an answer.
She loves running. As a freshman she was asked to compete on the varsity cross country team but declined because she was not sure that she was capable of staying up with them. As the season progressed her times exceeded that of the varsity runners. She had no regrets even though she had passed the time when league rules allowed runners to be placed on varsity teams. She figured she had three more years she could compete as a varsity runner.
During volleyball the next year she twisted her ankle — or at least thought she did. Weeks later when the pain still persisted she went to a doctor.
She was diagnosed with a chronic condition that meant key tissue would never fully heal in parts of her foot. The doctor told her she’d never be able to run a marathon, half-marathon on 10K.
It hit her hard.
“I couldn’t let someone tell me what I’m capable of doing,” she noted.
She decided that she needed to dedicate her life to helping others defy the odds. Her goal is to become a pediatrician.
Danika Hunt remembers those who helped “unlock her mind.”
The first was a second grade teacher at Lincoln School. The most recent were teachers at Manteca High.
The doors that were opened when she learned she had the key stunned and inspired her.
“Knowledge is power,” Hunt said noting people can use education to free themselves.
A career and a job contrast just as much as day and night from Hunts perspective.
A job puts food on the table. A career is something that does that but ignites a passion.
She wants to help people not only understand they can escape jobs and embrace careers but she also wants to give them the tools to do so.
To that end she wants to become a teacher. But that is only a short-term goa. One day she wants to be a principal so she can work with others and provide the support needed to unlock young minds. But before that happens, she wants to serve in the Peace Corps.
Tehya Elliott has made serving others second nature whether it was at Sierra High, in her church, or the community.
She also understands what it is like to struggle with challenges. She was able to overcome a learning disability thanks to the dedicated efforts of a resource specialist.
“I want to help people make a difference in the world,” Tehya said. “Even simply smiling or listening to somebody can brighten up their day.”
She wants to help other people learn.
Morgan Gross — just like her seven peers — embodies unselfishness, community serving, dedication, and a sense that she is part of something bigger.
“My time is a gift to serve and benefit the community,” noted Morgan who says she loves public speaking.
One way is to get people to understand they do have the time to make a difference in the lives of others.
She relates an observation from a teacher who noted people will wait 20 minutes in line at Starbucks to buy a $5 Frappuccino but won’t make the time to go out and vote.
“Yes, we are all busy, but we need to prioritize and look at the big picture,” Morgan pointed out.
She wants to help others do just that.
What the eight have in common besides being May graduates of Manteca, East Union, Sierra and Calla high schools is that they shared in $13,500 in scholarships awarded this year by the Manteca Rotary Club. All are one-time awards save for Pepic who will receive $1,000 annually for the next four years.
The eight also represent one cold, hard truth.
Ninety-five percent, if not more, of the people who turned 18 this year are going to step up to the challenges of adulthood and pay the price for success not try to shirk their obligations, responsibilities, and the hard work that goes with them by wallowing in self-indulgence, or grabbing needle or a gun. .
They are the true faces of our future and not latest Internet posting of the latest vile that seem to be all too-often committed by 18 year olds.