In every generation, there are people who are convinced that when they go, civilization will die with them. This is based on the belief that the following generation is so sluggish and depraved that they won’t be capable of shouldering responsibility when their turn comes. That viewpoint has been around for several thousand years now; you’ll recall that Socrates was charged with “corruption of the young” (for his unorthodox teachings) and compelled to drink that hemlock smoothie.
Fortunately, there are also people in every generation who believe that youths aren’t all just a bunch of hopeless slackers. These people — optimists, I suppose you could call them — view the next generation as a source of good ideas, with the energy to implement them. Don Strauss was one of those people.
A business executive, he was… what’s the euphemism, “well-compensated”? That is to say, he had considerable principal — and high principles as well. Passionate about the importance of education, Don and his wife Dorothy disposed of a substantial part of their disposable income through scholarships. For decades, they paid the tuition for students at several universities; these were young people for whom the expense would have made a college education impossible otherwise. Those scholarships continue to this day.
Then, after his death in 1995, Dorothy established the Donald A. Strauss Foundation. It funds public service projects that are dreamed up, and fulfilled, by students at various universities in California. Every year since 1997, ten to fifteen students have received awards of $10,000 each to put their plans into action. The diversity and creativity of these youthful enterprises is impressive. Here is a tiny sample of what Strauss Scholars have taken on:
• Mark Michalski (UCLA) went to the Himalayas to set up an ethernet connection for small villages in Nepal, providing them with computer access to the outside world. The objective was to increase opportunities for learning in the schools of that remote area.
• Jenna Harvey (UC Davis) established a program that supplied musical instruments and instruction to middle-school students who would otherwise not have access to music programs.
• Alex Quick (UC San Diego) founded Donor Dudes, a student organization with the goal of increasing not only blood donation, but pledges of organ and tissue donation. Donor Dudes has grown to include chapters on several other campuses.
• Tess Bridgeman (Stanford) worked with women in small communities in Oaxaca, Mexico, to improve health standards. She learned that a locally-grown plant not only had dietary benefits, but could be grown in sufficient quantities that the surplus could be sold, increasing the villages’ resources.
• Thomas Oliver (Caltech) devised a way to convert old mountain bikes into wheelchairs that could handle the rough terrain in underdeveloped countries.
Over the years, other projects have tackled social, educational, and health issues of all kinds. Most of the projects continue, even though their originators have graduated. I’ve posted a link to the Strauss Foundation website, so if you’re inclined to think that the next generation is no damn good and headed straight to oblivion, here’s my recommendation:
Go to the Strauss site. Click on “Projects We Have Funded”. Browse. It will change your mind. Repeat as often as necessary.