Class of 2009, now is your time to shine.

As you mark your final days of college and walk across that stage, you should know: the world is counting on you.

To all my peers, I hope you find satisfaction and a sense of achievement in your new academic or work careers. In all your endeavors and journeys, I hope you keep one thing in mind: You have the ability to make positive change in your communities, cities, states, nation and world.

But, you already know a thing or two about change. Your generation — my generation — will and already has made history. We are the generation who witnessed through innocent eyes the ravages of Sept. 11, 2001 and the resulting “War on Terror,” forever changing the way we related to the world and it us. Time after time we’ve said goodbye to friends and peers, family members, boyfriends and girlfriends who signed up to fight abroad, hoping they’d return in one piece. Many of us enlisted ourselves.

And, because of the historic occurrences of our childhood, our generation was among the millions of Americans who sought for a progressive change in our national leadership and direction. We helped to herald the beginning of a new American era — an age where it was finally possible for a black man to ascend to the very position that less than a century ago was used by others to keep entire races, genders and cultures subservient and unequal.

We are witnessing the birth of an America where all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation and gender-identity, enjoy freedom and justice and the benefit of knowing their leaders and communities acknowledge their contributions, affirm their lives and celebrate their loves.

As you graduate, five state governments realize the errors of their ways, opening the institution of civil marriage to all people. As we wrap up our 20s in six, seven or eight years, imagine what our country will have achieved.

The possibilities for progress are limitless. The dominos are falling at an astoundingly fast pace. And, you can be a part of history.

The change we’ve seen since we were children is amazing. In just 10 years, even some of the most conservative places have seen the LGBT people in their midst. When we were teenagers, there were only nine gay-straight alliances in high schools across North Carolina and only a handful in South Carolina. Now that number has grown almost tenfold or more. Our local communities and schools have changed because we took the effort to get involved and push for the right to be safe, recognized and heard.

Let’s put that same effort and energy to work as we continue our academic pursuits or enter our careers. Let’s continue to shape our universities and workplaces, making them shining examples of communities that accept and embrace all people.

As we enter our future, remember that life is about more than personal financial gain or material possessions. The world needs leaders, visionaries, activists, philanthropists, volunteers — kindhearted and community-minded people who work just as much for others as they do themselves.
It is easy to think only of ourselves. It is easy to focus on the here and now. I challenge you to continue what you have done throughout your youth. Think of tomorrow and what you can do today to change it.

Get or stay involved with your local political process. Attend local town halls and city government meetings. Become precinct officers, phone bankers, campaign volunteers.

Donate your time and skills to your local or state advocacy groups. Attend their lobby days. Call and visit your elected officials. Volunteer to collect signatures for petitions.

Spend time helping the least among you. Dish out meals at the local soup kitchen. Take your old clothes to Goodwill. Give that stranger on the corner a dollar or some change.

Small acts of kindness create a ripple effect through time and space. In one small moment and gesture of human compassion, you can lift spirits and change lives.

This is your mission. This is your life. This is your future.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.