By Jim Wallis 5-19-2016

Since all the political news is terrible and only getting worse, I decided to reflect on something very personal this week — about a great event that happened this weekend.

On Sunday night, I was at a wonderful party. My oldest son Luke is graduating from high school in a few weeks, so there are many things on the calendar: graduation ceremonies and events, Prom, celebrations with family and friends. It’s hard to believe that 17-year-old Luke, like many of his friends, will be going off to college this fall — even harder to imagine him not being upstairs. Since we are all facing these momentous moments, several of us parents had an idea. Let’s invite all the kids who were in kindergarten together, and are now headed for university, to get together again with all of us parents who also go back all those years. Apparently it was a good idea because 21 young people showed up with their moms and dads.

What a sight they were. All grown up now, not like the 5-year-olds they were when we all met. You could still tell who everybody was, though it took some second and third looks, with help from other parents. Looking quite mature now, sounding very intelligent, and engaging in great conversations, showing social skills with each other and us, they all seemed quite excited about the next steps in their lives.

Most had connected at times along the way since kindergarten and elementary school; some stayed in close touch, others saw each other from time to time — similar to the parents.

We all met at the John Eaton Elementary School, the most diverse public elementary school in the city of Washington, D.C., and the gem of a learning community that we all still very much support. My wife Joy was very involved as the president of the Home and School Association (Eaton’s PTA). Since I was a Little League baseball coach all those years, most all the boys there on Sunday were on one of my teams. The party was hosted at the home of the husband/wife soccer coaches who worked with many of the boys and the girls. Seeing our baseball and soccer players much bigger now, physically moving into adulthood, with a few going on to play college athletics, brought back all kinds of coaching memories.

Those who came were a very racially diverse group of young adults, about half men and half women. There were smiles all around when the former kindergartners now aspiring college students began to enter the room, and lots of laughs as they sat together and watched some great old pictures the parents had pulled together to show on the television set. Seeing them as 5-year-olds at birthday parties, play days at the park, baseball games, soccer matches, school plays, and in many hilarious and touching circumstances brought many happy memories back to the kids and tears to some of the parent’s eyes.

Knowing many of the kids and their families through baseball, school, and changing personal circumstances, Joy and I are aware of some of the things many of these families had gone through, including painful losses, troubled times, shining moments, and amazing experiences. But here was this community of young people, graduating from high school and all going to good colleges with many things on their minds and hearts that they want to do in the world — including things they want to change about the world.

Our own son Luke chose a strong academic liberal arts college with a great baseball program where he was recruited to play, and others chose similar schools. Three young men are going to the great Morehouse College and a young woman to another HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), Hampton University. Others are going to small and larger schools from Maine to North Carolina, and from Massachusetts to Oregon. All were very excited about the places they were headed, based on what they want to study and do with their lives, or what part of the country and kind of place they wanted to live as students. One is doing a gap year, another community college. All are looking forward now, still unsure about what they might end up doing in their lives but feeling hopeful about the future.

You could see they were really enjoying looking back on their very first year of school with their first schoolmates and friends. After the food was gone, they all decided to go back to the park where they all played together as kids right next to the school and the Eaton playground to shoot baskets and run around like they always used to — one last time together before moving on. Of course they all were sharing their contact information on their phones.

There were so many good conversations all evening between both students and parents, and parents with students — so much better than many of the discussions about the state of the nation or the church that I came from, or was going back to.

It’s easy to be dismayed by the state of U.S. politics, and it can be difficult to find hope as we look around the world at ongoing suffering and terror and alarming political campaigns. But looking at these 20 kindergartners now going off to college, I left feeling quite hopeful.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His new Audible spoken-word series, Jim Wallis In Conversation, is available now, as is his book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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