Every Monday, John Darling posts an editorial article documenting and challenging the latest in Neverland, Ohio.

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Growing Apart

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend my sister’s welcome home party, and I was struck by the melancholy realization that the older we get, the more and more quickly things change.  I’ve known Wendy for literally as long as I can remember, and for so many years, whether we liked it or not, my siblings and I were inseparable.  Dozens of photo albums’ worth of important milestones came and went in the blink of an eye, and I watched my siblings grow up so gradually that I was scarcely aware they were changing at all.  But after she’s spent a mere 6 months, Wendy’s made herself a new life in New York City, filled with a cast of unfamiliar characters, and that realization has forced me to come to grips with just how much I’ve missed her.

Of course, Wendy isn’t the only person guilty of moving on.  It’s shocking how quickly Neverland sans Wendy has become the new status quo, for all of us.  Michael stepped in to replace Wendy at Dear Darling.  Wendy’s duties as surrogate mother to Michael have fallen to me.  Our friend Lily even took Wendy’s place as Peter’s girlfriend.  The circle has closed, and everyone in it seems perfectly happy.  And yet, I wonder how much of that is a carefully crafted self-delusion that we all share.

I’ve been so excited about Wendy’s book and all that that means for her that it’s blinded me to the reality of my own feelings about the void she left in all our lives.  Much to my own surprise (and dismay), the reception Wendy received from both Michael and myself at her triumphant homecoming was downright chilly.  And the bizarre notion of Wendy being a visitor in Neverland just brings out in stark relief how off kilter everything’s been in her absence.  I’d hoped her return would bring us all closer together, but instead some things have come to light that threaten to drive a wedge between lifelong friends.

Now, change isn’t always a bad thing.  I recently wrote an editorial about how Neverland’s own Jas Hook pulled himself up by his bootstraps and improved almost every aspect of his life.  Though, in his case, he did have to move away and leave everything he knew behind in order to do so.  And, to be clear, I don’t in any way begrudge Wendy her desire to forge her own destiny; she’s amazing, and I’m truly thrilled that the world at large is starting to see that.  I just hope that Michael, Father and I factor somewhere into that success.  And that our family and our friendships can stay the course in these stormy waters.

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Posted in Editorials
Posted on July 16, 2015

Neverland Underground

More than 240 years ago, our great nation declared its independence, severing its ties to Great Britain.  But the road towards stability was fraught with discord.  In 1861, a bitter divide between the north and the south plunged the United States of America into Civil War.  And this couldn’t have come at a worse time for the city of Neverland; our town had only been in existence for two short years.   Neverland was so nascent it was even money whether or not it was even going to survive, and suddenly our entire nation was torn asunder!

Only two minor battles were fought on Ohio soil, but that didn’t mean that our proud State was about to stand on the sidelines.  The State of Ohio distinguished itself in a number of ways during the War Between the States.  For one thing, Ulysses S. Grant, General-in-Chief of the Union army, was, himself, Ohio-born.  What’s more, some 320,000 Buckeyes enlisted in the Union Army, making Ohio third behind only New York and Pennsylvania in total manpower contributed to the Northern war effort.

But Ohio, and Neverland specifically, made another indelible mark on our nation’s history, in the years leading up to the war and beyond; it was a haven for runaway slaves.  The one-time pirates that founded Neverland with J.M. Barrie built a shelter that came to be called the Underground Home, which was, as the name suggested, literally underground.  Former pirate Samuel Hook, ancestor to Neverland’s own Jas Hook, and a fairy by the name of Liberty Bell were the driving force behind our town’s involvement in the Underground Railroad.  Liberty and her fairy friends acted as beacons, leading runaway slaves to their underground haven.

Of course ultimately, our town and our nation endured.  But I’m going to take today to remember just how hard fought our independence really was, and how close we came to letting it all slip away.  Our state’s significant contribution during the Civil War is just one more reason why I am, as ever, proud to be an Ohioan.

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Posted in Editorials
Posted on July 6, 2015

For Love And Country

Unless you’ve been living under Skull Rock, by now you know that this past Friday, the United States Supreme Court made a momentous decision; gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states in the union.  And words cannot adequately describe how much this means to me.  My social media feeds are one solid, unending rainbow… and I’ve never seen anything more beautiful.

This historic decision builds on earlier cases, like Loving v. Virginia, which overturned state bans on interracial marriage, and Undine v. Ohio which granted humans and mermaids the right to enter into civil unions.  The Supreme Court finally acknowledged what so many of us have been saying all along, that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”

The entire notion that gay marriage was ever somehow distinct from “regular” marriage is a product of a troubling trend that has historically suffused pop culture’s portrayal of gay characters; Far more often than not, gay characters have been defined almost exclusively by their sexuality.  We’ve seen countless, angst-ridden coming out stories, which can give rise to the wildly inaccurate assumption that growing up as a gay child is uniformly fraught with internal strife and external condemnation.  Which is not to say that these things don’t ever happen, far from it.  But I, personally, find it so refreshing when we get to see the other side, when a character’s proclamation of their sexuality is heralded not with a bang but with a whimper.  When their loved ones say, “We kind of already knew, but it wouldn’t have mattered even if we didn’t.”  Because, more and more, that happens in the real world, too.

There’s a theme that’s been running through my editorials of late, this idea that a proper pairing can form a union so much stronger than the sum of its parts.  I know that, historically, there are all sorts of societal reasons why the institution of marriage has stood the test of time that have nothing to do with the lofty idea of true love, but as a person who likes to think of himself as equal parts hopeless and romantic, it still seems to me that in a perfect world, marriage should, in the words of Friday’s Supreme Court decision, “[embody] the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family.”  And it fills me with unrepentant joy that so many perfect unions of the heart will finally be recognized as perfect unions under the law.  That children with same-sex parents will no longer have to grow up thinking that their family units are somehow less-than, simply because these two people who fell madly in love with one another happen to be of the same gender.

Members of the National LGBTQ Task Force, huddled about the Supreme Court on Friday, hoisted signs that featured two simple words: “Be you.”  I don’t think I’ve seen a more profound and stirring a call to action than that in all of my years on this planet.  And I’ll tell you this much, dear readers: I, for my part, intend to keep on being me for as long as my heart keeps beating.  Because I don’t know how to be anything else.  And I nobody should ever have to.

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Posted in Editorials
Posted on June 30, 2015

The Importance of Being George

In honor of Father’s Day this year, I thought it was long since time I wrote a piece on the man responsible for bringing you the Kensington Chronicle 7 days a week 52 weeks a year, my father and our editor in chief, George Darling. And how, if not for a chance meeting more than 30 years ago at the Neverland Train Station, I wouldn’t even be here.

As you can no doubt imagine, it takes a certain kind of person to run a newspaper day in and day out. George Darling is driven, organized, and knows how and when to delegate. But believe it or not, my father was not always the taskmaster he is today. Though George is loath to admit it himself, my grandfather, David Darling, has imparted to me on more than one occasion that in his formative years, my father was relatively aimless. David Darling saw his son’s potential, but feared that George was in danger of squandering it. George, for his part, wanted the freedom to make his own choices, and in those days, being groomed to take over the family business was the furthest thing from what he wanted.

David Darling was ultimately able to impress upon his son the importance of getting a college education, and George begrudgingly enrolled at Neverland University, from which he emerged four years later with a degree in English and Journalism. But this was far from the last time George and his father would engage in a heated debate about the direction of his life. Not long after graduating, George and David would have the most contentious fight of this kind to date. At an impasse, a furious George stormed off, intent on fleeing Neverland for parts unknown. But fate had other plans.

It just so happened that the woman working the ticket counter at the Neverland Train Station that fateful day was one Mary Davies. To hear my father tell it, once he locked eyes with Mary for the first time, the rest of the world faded away. She was the most beautiful creature George had ever laid eyes on, and from that moment forward, he never thought about leaving Neverland again.

For much of my life, I’ve harbored the belief that romantic entanglements are a distraction, at best. But in recent months, I’ve begun to revise that opinion. I’ve seen evidence of how the right pairing can create a union that is far greater than the sum of its parts. And this was absolutely the case with George and Mary Darling in the early years of their courtship. Now, starting a family was at the forefront of George’s mind, and he decided to put his journalism degree to good use. Much to David Darling’s relief, his son finally agreed to follow in his footsteps, and Grandfather could rest assured that the dynasty of Darlings at the helm of the Kensington Chronicle would continue, unabated.

And, of course, for my money, the most important result of the union of George and Mary Darling is their three children, myself and my siblings. I, personally, have been a newspaperman from the womb, and the paper will be in good hands when my father does decide to retire. So we at the Chronicle wish George Darling, and all of you other fathers out there, a very happy Father’s Day. We owe all of you a debt we can never possibly repay.

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Posted in Editorials
Posted on June 22, 2015

A Good, Right Hook

I mentioned last week that my sister Wendy now works for JH Media in New York City. Well, this week we’re going to take a look at the man who puts the JH in JH Media, Mr. Jas Hook. Jas, née James, was born and raised right here in Neverland. Tragically orphaned at a very young age, James was raised by his father’s sister, Emily Hook. Now, at this point in time, the Hook family was far from well to do, and James faced more than his share of adversity. James, at the time, was a boy of considerable girth for his age, evinced a youthful stutter, and was the butt of many a joke in his schoolboy years. One boy his age, a boy I know quite well, was particularly unkind. It got so bad that when James was 18, he went to live with a cousin in Berkshire, England, finishing out his senior year at Eton College. James subsequently went to Balliol College, where he earned a master’s in Business and Economics, and interned for two years with the world-famous Edward Thatch.

After receiving his master’s, the young entrepreneur, now called Jas, took out a loan to purchase L.J. Silver Pictures, a struggling film studio on the verge of bankruptcy. Renaming it JH Media, Jas turned the company’s fortune around in a mere two years. And making JH Media into a successful film studio was not the apex of his ambition; the company subsequently expanded into television, music and games, becoming nothing short of a media empire. And Jas sits at the helm of his media conglomerate at JH Media’s corporate headquarters in New York City.

And while Jas was building his empire, he was also busy reinventing himself on a personal level. He managed to shed those extra pounds through healthy living, and overcame his childhood stutter. Our town founder J.M. Barrie is one of his personal heroes, and Jas fancies himself an explorer, both literally and figuratively. He forged his journey to England and back again, overcoming personal and financial adversity in a true rags-to-riches story. And so committed is Jas to the idea of transparency and fiscal responsibility that he’s recently installed cameras all over JH Media’s headquarters, laying his entire corporate structure to bare. Jas went from being a troubled, bullied orphan to one of Forbes’ top 100 most influential people for the past three years running. I believe Mr. Hook’s unparalleled success and irreproachable integrity is indicative of just how fruitful a crucible Neverland can be; his is a success story the entire town can be proud of.

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Posted in Editorials
Posted on June 15, 2015

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

Brace yourself, dear readers, we’re about to take another deep dive into the rabbit hole that is the plight of the millennials in the workforce. I’d like to be able to say that things have progressed since the last time I wrote about jobs in Neverland, but it pains me to report that, at least in my own circles, most of us still find ourselves running in circles. And were it not for nepotism, our work situations would be much more dire indeed. My job, as assistant to the editor in chief, and editor of the Kensington Chronicle’s online edition, has not changed, nor has my salary. Our fairy friend Tinkerbell is now my father’s secretary at the paper. My brother Michael has moved up in the world, ever so slightly; he’s gone from the mail room to taking over my sister Wendy advice vlog, Dear Darling.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, I have a good friend (who, for the purposes of this editorial shall remain nameless) who is currently without employment, and would seem to be in no immediate danger of acquiring it. I will say that, in his last job, this individual was particularly ill-equipped to work on anybody’s schedule but his own. That said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel his pain. With the massive layoffs we’ve seen during the Great Recession, those of us who are still fortunate enough to have our 9-to-5 jobs are working longer hours, and doing the work of two or more people. In this kind of work environment, it becomes increasingly difficult for millennials to juggle their work life and their personal lives. A narrative begins to emerge that millennials can only successful in one of those areas, not both.

Now, if you think about it, the idea of a 9-to-5 salaried position has become less and less relevant the further the industrial age has receded into our society’s rearview mirror. During the era of industrialization, routinized tasks were the order of the day, and this kind of work could be planned far enough in advance that businesses could create set shifts for workers, who would work the same hours, day in and day out, doing exactly the same thing. But now that computers can do a lot of these tasks that used to required manual labor, the landscape is changing.

What’s the upshot of this? Millennials are willing to be paid less than they’re worth, forgo promotions or uproot their lives and move, all for the opportunity to work a job that affords them the kind of flexibility they need to have a life outside of work. And, as you might imagine, when there’s an able-bodied work force that’s willing to take a pay cut to maintain a flexible schedule, the market will adjust to that demand. And the first real businesses to capitalize on this desire for flexible hours have been Uber and its competitors. The problem is, the new picture bears a striking resemblance to the piece work of the 19th century, when workers had no power, no rights, and worked an ungodly amount of hours for almost no pay. Uber drivers, for instance, are expected to provide their own cars, their own insurance, and Uber takes a large percentage of the profits.

And this so called “sharing economy” doesn’t stop there. We’re seeing the same thing happening with Instacart shoppers, Airbnb hosts, and Taskrabbit jobbers. There are even on-demand doctors and attorneys cropping up online. These companies will tout that they’re giving workers the kind of flexibility they want by enabling them to monetize their own downtime. But this so-called downtime is the time that earlier generations spent actually leading their lives. And since the amount of work that’s available in these professions is entirely dependent upon demand, even if you had the time to start a family, financial security in this scenario is something you’d only be able to dream about.

I am happy to report, however, that when it comes to my sister Wendy, she’s turned out to be the exception that proves the rule. As many of you are no doubt aware, about six month ago, she spread her wings and flew away from Neverland towards an amazing opportunity in New York City; she’s now an up-and-comer at a world renowned media outlet called JH Media. I hope you’ll kindly indulge me for a moment as I engage in a bit of shameless promotion on my sister’s behalf. Wendy has a book coming out in the very immediate future, entitled “ASK WENDY! Advice on Life, Love, and Living,” and I urge you to click over to the JH Media site without delay to learn more about it. Her correspondence has, of late, become uncharacteristically sparse, but I can only assume that this is an indication of the breadth of her success!

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Posted in Editorials
Posted on June 10, 2015

Neverland Without Wendy

This week, I thought I’d write a follow-up to my last editorial about my sister Wendy leaving Neverland.  In the run-up to her departure, I was so gung-ho about what this career move meant for Wendy that I barely stopped to think about how her leaving would affect me.  Now that a couple of months have passed, the impact of her flight has begun to stick out in stark relief.

For instance, before now I don’t think I ever consciously acknowledged just how important Wendy’s presence was in the ecosystem of our apartment.  When it was me, Wendy and Michael living together, there was a delicate balance to the universe.  Now that it’s just me and Michael… Well, he and I are both still alive, so I guess things aren’t as bad as they could be.  And don’t get me wrong, I love my brother dearly, but I never quite realized the extent to which he is incapable of doing almost anything for himself.  Wendy was always as much like a mother to Michael as a sister, and now those motherly duties are falling to the only sibling that yet remains.

I’m also feeling Wendy’s absence more directly.  When you’ve seen someone day in and day out for as long as you can remember, it’s difficult to describe just how much of a void you feel after they’ve gone.  And while Wendy and I were decidedly diligent about keeping in contact on a daily basis in the immediate aftermath of her departure, as the weeks wear on I fear we have both been woefully remiss in maintaining this level of communication.  Wendy’s sojourn to the big city marks the first time that any of my siblings have been absent from Neverland for this length of time, and I’d be lying if I said that I’m entirely equipped to deal with the situation.  To one degree or another, Wendy had been helping me muddle through almost all of the things I struggle with as a prototypical millennial, and with her gone, I must admit I’m starting to feel a bit like a ship without a rudder.

That said, I guess you can’t really expect your loved ones will ever learn to fly if they always keep one foot in the nest.  I suppose on some level I always understood that Wendy’s life post-Neverland couldn’t begin in earnest until our beloved hometown had receded sufficiently into her rearview mirror.  The toughest thing about encouraging your friends and loved ones to follow their dreams is that sometimes said dreams take them worlds away, and threaten to make your once-entwined paths finally and inevitably diverge.  I can say, categorically, that Neverland is not the same without Wendy, and I have no doubt that Wendy’s life has undergone a concomitant change as well.  I only hope that, in the final analysis, the old axiom about change being good turns out to be true in this case.  And I suppose, so far as that goes, only time will tell.

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Posted in Editorials
Posted on August 15, 2014

Flying the Coop

As most of you loyal “It’s Dear Darling” viewers probably already know, my sister Wendy has left Neverland for a cushy job in the big city.  Working at JH Media really is a dream job for her, and I couldn’t be happier about it.  And if I’m being honest, I’ve kind of seen this coming for a long time; because, while my dream is here, Wendy was never going to be able to reach her full potential in Neverland.  And don’t get me wrong, if I got an offer to be a newspaperman for a prestigious paper in the big city, I’m not saying I wouldn’t have to think long and hard about it, but in the final analysis, I am perfectly happy climbing the ladder here at our local paper.  Because sooner or later our dear father George Darling will have to retire (though I daren’t tell him that!), and I can’t imagine the Kensington Chronicle without a Darling at the helm.

However, “It’s Dear Darling” was essentially the pinnacle of what Wendy would have been able to achieve at the Chronicle, and I’ve always known that she’s destined for bigger things than that.  Which is not to say that it was easy for her to leave.  It takes a certain kind of person to leave behind her parents, her siblings, her friends, and make a new life for herself hundreds of miles from the place she’s called home for her entire life.  The Kensington Chronicle’s own Peter Pan likes to fancy himself an adventurer, but for my money there is no braver soul in all of Neverland than my sister Wendy.

I do sometimes wonder, however, just what is the cost of pursuing your dreams?  As I’ve mentioned at least a couple of times before, as I toil day in and day out to make my professional dreams a reality, the refrain “What’s love got to do with it?” keeps coming up more and more frequently.  Indeed, Wendy’s departure has threatened to tear her own burgeoning romance asunder, making me wonder anew if personal and professional satisfaction truly are mutually exclusive propositions.  Juggling a career and a serious relationship has seemed like a bridge too far for many in my generation, and I think it begs the question, “What do you do when you have two dreams that are at odds?”  And I suppose I don’t necessarily have a good answer to that question.

That said, when confronted with this choice herself, I believe Wendy came at it from a particularly refreshing angle.  Some might say she chose professional aspirations over love, but I don’t exactly see it that way.  I rather like to think that she’s elected to believe that, in situations like this, love finds a way.  That distance can make the heart grow fonder, and true love can endure even the harshest trials.

So for all of you Neverlandians out there wrestling with this same choice, weighing the pros of following your dreams against the cons of leaving your old life behind, remember that your friends and loved ones will support you, whatever your decision.  And pulling up roots for the big city needn’t be a sad commentary on the state of things here in Neverland; sometimes, the grass really is greener on the other side, and the only way to begin your new life is to go where your dreams take you.

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Posted in Editorials
Posted on July 29, 2014

Patriot Games

When Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” premiered back in 2012, the show’s disillusioned cable news anchor protagonist, Will McAvoy, voiced a much-talked-about rant bemoaning a bubbly college girl’s claim that “America is the greatest country in the world.” When Sorkin, with his characteristic lack of subtlety, went on to use McAvoy as his mouthpiece to rebuke the flag-waving college student for being part of the “worst period generation period ever period,” all the “West Wing” alum wound up proving was that while he may still have his finger on the pulse of Politics with a capital P, he is years behind the times when it comes to generational politics. If anything, recent studies indicate that millennials have more in common with Sorkin’s Will McAvoy than the writer seems to realize.

In fact, a 2014 Pew research report alleges that only 15% of U.S. millennials cling to that outmoded worldview of blind belief in American exceptionalism. Indeed, my generation has grown up in an era when “patriotism” itself is seen as a dirty word, with the perception of having more in common with “fanaticism” than many of us are comfortable with. And millennials seem to be profoundly aware of their own bias in this regard; it’s now common practice amongst those in my generation to celebrate holidays like Independence Day by taking to their social media platforms and posting images of over-the-top, stereotypical Americana, accompanied by the appropriately ironic hashtag #merica.

That said, I would vehemently deny that my generation’s lack of traditional patriotism equates to Anti-Americanism. As usual in situations like this, it all comes down to semantics; While MTV has not necessarily always been a bastion of political adroitness, a recent poll that they conducted arrived at a markedly different conclusion from the Pew Research Center, simply by coming at the issue from a different angle. Millennials may not see patriotism as an “unquestioned obligation,” but 86% of millennial respondents to the MTV poll reported that they were proud to be an American.

On my sister Wendy’s @ItsDearDarling Twitter account, she has a feature called #DashOfDarling, for which she posts almost-daily inspirational or thought-provoking quotes. Back on Memorial Day, she posted a Mark Twain quote which I think gets to the heart of the matter: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” In a world where the all-seeing-eye of the internet and the 24-hour-news-cycle lays bare the skeletons in all of our politicians’ closets, millennials are redefining patriotism as knowing when to support those in power and when to question that authority. And in that context, advancing the ‘merica meme isn’t so much a commentary on our nation as a whole, but rather a scathing look at the wilfully uniformed segment of our population that would rather engage in unreserved nationalism than draw their own conclusions about the state of the union.

I should add that the same Pew Research report that has prompted many in the media to trumpet that there is a generation gap in America patriotism shows that 55% of millennials believe that our country’s “best days are ahead,” an optimism that outstrips that of many of our predecessors. And that’s one sentiment in Sorkin’s “Newsroom” opening that I think the majority of millennials can actually get behind: Whether or not we believe that America is currently the greatest country in the world, we do cling unflinchingly to the belief that “it can be.”

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Posted in Editorials
Posted on July 12, 2014

Seize the Birthday

My sister, the Kensington Chronicle’s own Wendy Darling, just had a birthday last week, and it made me ruminate on the passage of time, and what birthdays mean to me.  In many ways, I see my birthday as the beginning of a new year, a time to take stock of where I am in my long-term plans.  And as much as I’ve gone to great lengths in recent editorials to explain the stunted development of me and my fellow millennials, realizing just how much further along our own father was at this point in his life can be a bitter pill to swallow.  To say nothing of Kensington Darling, our ancestor and illustrious founder of this very paper, whose many and varied accomplishments I have enumerated elsewhere.  He and his contemporary J.M. Barrie, Neverland’s beloved founder, accomplished more in a few decades than most people do in a lifetime.  Are the days of Renaissance men and women like that well and truly gone?

Well, my answer to that question, dear readers, is a resounding “no.”  As much as I wholeheartedly believe that the deck is stacked against us in a lot of ways, I fear, of late, that I’ve become something of a “millennial apologist.”  The absolute worst thing we could do would be to allow a culture that undervalues us to disillusion us into inaction.  Down that road lies the self-fulfilling prophecy of what our generation’s worst detractors have been saying all along.  And looking back at some of my earlier posts, I wonder if my repeated references to our generation’s “inability” to do certain things isn’t just me falling into the same trap that they have.

My friends, if you take away one thing from my commentary on the plight of the millennial generation, I hope it’s this: That this laundry list of challenges I’ve been amassing are not meant to be excuses, but rather some manner of explanation.  In a perfect world, we wouldn’t feel the need to explain ourselves, but the truth of the matter is, the media’s incessant millennial bashing has left us with something to prove.  Whenever I see another ill-informed commentator jumping on the anti-millennial bandwagon, it brings to mind the immortal words of “Lost’s” John Locke: “Don’t tell me what I can’t do.”  Though I’m as surprised as you are to find myself quoting a pop-culture character as opposed to his philosopher namesake, I think the sentiment is apt.

So, please, dear readers, don’t let me tell you what you can’t do.  We are every bit as capable as the generations that came before us.  Don’t let the prevailing proclamation that “30 is the new 20” lull you into the false sense that what you do in those intervening 10 years doesn’t matter.  On the contrary, what we do in our 20s matters now more than ever.  Sure, we’ve got challenges to overcome, but so has every generation.  If that just means we have to work all the harder to secure the future we deserve, so be it.  So come your birthday this year, while you should absolutely allocate a little time to celebrate another successful revolution around the sun, I urge you also to take stock of where you are in your own personal journey.  The lives we want may seem out of reach now, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

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Posted in Editorials
Posted on July 3, 2014

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