Reflections on America Fifty Years After Guns at Cornell

I was part of the 1960s generation that fought for civil rights, and we attacked rigid social mores regarding personal choices such as hair length and sexual abstinence before marriage. “Do your own thing” was the mantra of the 1960s. But while we rightly wanted freedom for personal lifestyle choices, did the “Me Generation” really intend to abdicate responsibility for defining and teaching basic moral standards of right and wrong essential for both the individual and society? Did we really intend to abdicate our responsibility to teach the eternal, enduring significance of values that celebrate personal responsibility, personal discipline, personal accountability, hard work, moderation, courage, and cooperativeness?

We attacked the compulsory military draft, and the seeds for an all-volunteer military were sown during the 1960s. But while we rightly wanted freedom from military conscription, did we really intend to have the burdens of military service fall predominately on the shoulders of low-income persons who seek economic and educational opportunities in the military? Did we really intend to abdicate our responsibility to teach the ideal that every young American is enhanced by service to the greater common good, and all young Americans are enhanced by the friendships and bonds forged between those engaged in public service?

In the 1960s we prided ourselves on our selflessness. Fighting against the Vietnam War, and fighting against America’s systemic institutional racism, did not position us for internships on the first step of the corporate success ladder. But if we were so selfless, how did it come to be that our Baby Boom generation has presided over one of history’s greatest concentrations of wealth and well-being at the top of the economic pyramid? Did we really intend to be the corporate cost-cutters who outsource as many jobs as possible to lower-wage countries, and eliminate pillars of middle-class economic security such as defined benefit pensions?

Most particularly, when I observe the identity group politics which dominates America and many European democracies today, I wonder when students will realize that this generations’ fight should be to build societies which respect and celebrate diversity while also affirming a greater sense of community. Today’s fight should be to build communities which transcend our diversity to unite us as one America which encompasses our various races and cultures and creeds. All around the world this is the most urgent challenge for this generation.  all it Yugoslavia. Call it South Africa. Call it the Middle East. Call it Germany. Call it America. People all around the world are retreating into their racial and cultural enclaves. It is a virulent disease.

If I were a student today I would I would strive to build a university community that offers leadership to our country, and inspires hope and optimism.  I would strive to build a university community which is a beacon of hope, showing the world that “E Pluribus Unum” is possible—out of many, we can become one unified community.

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Thomas W. Jones is author of From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir. He is the founder and senior partner of venture capital investment firm TWJ Capital. He previously served as Chief Executive Officer of Global Investment Management at Citigroup; Vice Chairman, President, and COO at TIAA-CREF; ad Senior Vice-President and Treasurer at John Hancock Insurance Company.

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Reflections on America Fifty Years After Guns at Cornell