My dad kept telling me that the country I left six months ago was not the country I'êd be returning to. I had a hard time believing him, or anybody else who was emailing me the bad news. If anybody had told me that during my senior year in college, the economy would collapse, and friends who had been promised good jobs were now being fired even before they started, I would have laughed.
I graduated from Mercer Island High School in 2005. I was fortunate to receive a great education and be admitted to my first-choice college, Northeastern University in Boston, where I major in political science. Last July, I went to study for a semester at the University of Sydney in Australia. I had visited Asia and Europe several times. But this was the first time I went abroad as an adult for an extended period, with my country in serious trouble.
The election was heating up when I crossed the Pacific. Every non-American I met seemed to know exactly what America'ês problems were and how to solve them. One of the first things I learned in political science was that you don'êt pretend to know what'ês best for another country. After a few encounters, I couldn'êt help but feel like my country was under constant attack and foreigners were meddling in my business.
Maybe that'ês not fair. What America does affects the whole world. But walking down the promenade in Darling Harbor and hearing an Australian woman bash presidential candidate John McCain, I felt it was my duty as an American to confront this woman and her bandwagon friends, who clearly had little knowledge of American politics, other than a war they dislike. This election may have been about the lesser of two evils, but they'êre our evils.
Australian news coverage was spotty and biased. Rupert Murdoch fed Australians a steady diet of pro-Obama distortion. Clearly, Murdoch, who'ês a proud conservative here, cared more about pleasing his audience and making money than 'êfair and balanced'ê coverage. The Australian coverage made it seem that every American supported Obama, neglecting to point out that this inspirational man has faults that would be frowned upon in the Australian government, which prides itself on tradition and experience.
I happened to be in Fiji on American Election Day. I was coming off an island ferry when a local man approached, playing his guitar and singing his traditional Fijian welcome song. When he asked who was from America, I and others in my group raised our hands. He announced that Obama had won, concluding with congratulations. My friend Logan and I proceeded immediately to what looked like the nearest bar.
But the shock of being congratulated by a Fijian guitar player was nothing compared to what hit me when I got home. I flopped down on the couch and switched on the news. Story after story, all the same. Three thousand people laid off from this company, another thousand from that one. Workers refusing to leave their factory.
And always, debt. Government debt. Corporate debt. Mortgage debt. Credit card debt.
My debts as a student.
Some of my peers are frantically applying to graduate schools, hoping to avoid this malicious economy. But where do you get the money? I'êm fortunate. I'êm in the Marine Corps PLC (Platoon Leaders Course) Program. If I complete my training successfully next summer, I'êll have a job waiting for me as a second lieutenant when I graduate. So will Logan and several other friends, all of whom will most likely take part in another travel-abroad experience: Afghanistan.
Which brings me to my final point. I'êm a member of the so-called "Millennial Generation.'ê For years, people have criticized us as spoiled, super-impressed with ourselves, expecting everything to be handed to us. But it'ês the Millennials who are fighting this country'ês wars and who will inherit this country'ês debts, which are clearly way beyond repaying and still growing. Right now, we'êre no longer asking for everything to be handed to us. The only thing we ask is for this country to focus on what we can salvage and rebuild.
But in the end, that'ês going to be our job. In his 1961 inaugural speech, John F. Kennedy said, 'êI do not shrink from this challenge. I welcome it.'ê We don'êt welcome this challenge. It'ês not what we had in mind. But it has to be done, and we'êre the ones who will have to do it.