As the Class of 2023 puts high school in its rearview mirror, graduates will go out into the world and wrestle with some of the same problems that their parents’ and grandparents’ generations have. But, in addition to racism and environmental crises, metro Atlanta valedictorians say they expect their generation to face new challenges, such as the ones brought on by rapid technological advances.
Whether the problems are old or new, the top students at area schools are confident their peers will bring a new mindset when searching for solutions.
“I see enough good in the people around me to remain cautiously optimistic about our shared future,” said Marilyn Abney, valedictorian of Riverwood International Charter School in Sandy Springs.
More than 50 valedictorians responded to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s questions about what issues they think their generation will have to confront and how hopeful they feel about the future.
‘Nation more divided than ever’
There’s much for these newly minted adults to look forward to — college, travel, careers. Then, there are the problems they will inherit — climate change, culture wars, racism and its enduring legacy.
“The current political and social climate has our nation more divided than ever. These divisions are heightened through the echo chambers of social media,” said Abney, who plans to study international affairs at Brown University.
“It seems as if our country has lost the art of compromise, and I worry for how these divisions will spread into my generation and younger generations alike.”
‘There is so much tension’
Whether the discussion is on race, gender, sexual orientation, guns, or just about anything else, it seems that every disagreement devolves into an argument.
“Political issues will continue to be a source of conflict. It will be difficult to achieve any significant social advancements if there is so much tension,” said Shiloh High School’s Jessica Duong, who will study pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Georgia.
‘Technology and consequences’
But, while some of the challenges this generation will face center around age-old issues, some will be new, just emerging problems. Sophia Nguyen, of Greater Atlanta Christian, said her generation likely will have to deal with fallout from increased reliance on artificial intelligence.
“War and peace, the economy, religion — these are all issues I feel past generations have dealt with on some level, and our generation will manage them all the same. What separates us from them, however, is the rapid growth of our technology and the consequences it produces,” said Nguyen, who will be studying international affairs at the University of Georgia. “... Our greatest struggle will likely concern how we separate and protect society from technology, or vice versa.”
Some of the valedictorians point to the good that’s come from technology, as in the availability of electric cars and cutting-edge approaches to health care. But some of them worry about an ever-encroaching digital world.
Duluth High School’s Hiteshri V. Chudasama, who will be studying biology at Georgia Tech, expects one of the primary issues for the Class of 2023 will be “battling boundaries regarding social media and AI.”
Even so, this year’s graduating class — which includes roughly 100,000 high school seniors across Georgia — also radiates hope.
‘Hope for the future’
Hannah Jiang, from Johns Creek High School in Fulton County, said she witnesses people of all generations, including her own, doing good, whether that’s collecting money and supplies for the homeless or taking on projects in impoverished areas.
“Seeing passionate people utilizing their skills to help others motivates me to do the same and restores my hope for the future,” said the future Duke University student. “It isn’t exactly a glass-half-full or half-empty question. An optimist can still be cynical and wary while maintaining hope for a positive future.”
‘How human we all were’
A discussion that occurred during Joella Alexander’s English literature class opened her eyes to how rewarding thoughtful dialogue, and showing empathy, can be.
“We all shared our perspectives and opinions on each topic and were open enough to agree to disagree when we felt differently,” said Alexander, who will be studying mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech. “This activity allowed me to see all of my classmates and my teacher in a different light. I saw how much my mindset was similar to students who I barely talked to. And lastly, I saw how human we all were.”
Credit: Photo provided by Joella Alexander
Credit: Photo provided by Joella Alexander
‘We can only guess’
Berkmar High School’s Samad Ahmed, who will be studying computer science at Georgia Tech, was reflective and philosophical. People need to work together to produce a better future, Ahmed said, “But, as time passes, it feels as though we are both splitting apart and coming together, so we can only guess at what will happen.”
‘Look out for us’
Kate Carpenter, from Roswell High School, will study nuclear engineering at MIT. She said there’s no doubt her generation will face immense challenges, but she’s confident the latest batch of high school graduates is up for the task.
“Everything’s going to hit the fan during my lifetime,” she said. “However, I wouldn’t have it any other way because Gen Z is perhaps the only generation equipped to handle the multi-dimensional issues plaguing earth. ... Increasingly interconnected, we consistently rely on global networks of problem-solving, crowd-sourcing solutions to problems that don’t even have names yet. We take advantage of technological developments, pioneering careers and spurring innovations in the face of overwhelming skepticism. For my future and the future of the Class of 2023, I am increasingly optimistic. We represent the best of Atlanta, and I can’t wait to get started.”
“Look out for us,” Carpenter said, “because we will be making waves.”
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