Maria Gutzeit | Looking to the Next Generation, We’ll Be OK

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I keep telling my daughter she needs to invent a transporter (a la “Star Trek”) so we can get to our destinations on time. I am absolutely not kidding. I have huge faith in us, and the upcoming generations, to keep innovating and improving. A transporter would be darn handy in solving transportation woes, too.

I write this a week after attending the Urban Water Institute’s spring conference. While there, I got to meet two millennials, Jennifer Pierre, general manager of the State Water Contractors and Joaquin Esquivel, the new chair of the State Water Resources Control Board. At a time where it’s “common knowledge” that partisan bickering and political strife keep us from getting anything done, these two leaders talked repeatedly about science (gasp!) and working together to find common ground. It was boldly said that if folks just want to fight instead of resolving issues, well, they might not get what they want. 

Seeing young, smart, and savvy people in charge is a wonderful and much-needed breath of fresh air. We’re going to be OK.

There’s the constant refrain of “kids these days” and our public schools. This is what I’ve observed in my diverse neighborhood public school: nice, smart kids offered a tremendous variety of opportunities. Music and art are featured prominently and to all comers, for free. 

The kids LIKE each other, as evidenced by our giant “almost sleepover” movie night, all piled together eating snacks in the dark. We just wrapped up a competitive robotics team focused on space missions. The missions were complicated and detailed. 

What would you pack for food for astronauts on a yearlong mission in space, given the fuel and storage requirements, coupled with a need to keep the astronauts happy and nourished? They solved that and more, while also having to make a robot complete tasks in under three minutes in a hot room full of hundreds of screaming kids from all over Southern California. They dealt with things like having to adjust light sensors that reacted differently from sunlight to interior light, and a non-level surface that was throwing their distance calculations off. 

Yet they were cool as cucumbers. Never once did they get mad or give up. They applauded the other competitors without prompting. They were patient amidst piles of parts and tired parents, and they are only in grade school. 

We’re going to be OK.

You only need to go by one of our many local sports’ practice areas to see similar kids. Practicing multiple times a week (mostly) without complaint. Playing in the heat or the rain or the cold, with many of the older ones winning titles, breaking records and clocking times faster than those of prior generations. They sit with their parents and listen to their coaches. 

We’re going to be OK.

I do hear a lot of parents mention their kids are stressed and worried about the future. I certainly worried myself through school and much of middle age. I worried very intently about everything from tornados to nuclear war to black holes to dying of boredom when I realized what working life was like. What we lacked, and what I’m convinced will absolutely not only save us but make things better, is the rapid growth and sharing of knowledge and connections. Ideas are no longer isolated, they are shared. The spirit of innovation exists like never before. You can learn from, and communicate with, interesting people around the world. For those in doubt that we’re going to be OK, check out Thomas Friedman’s “Thank Your for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in An Age of Accelerations.” 

For amazing detail on how “common knowledge” is actually often false, and why catastrophic thinking about issues doesn’t help us find solutions, read Hans Rosling’s “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World.”

Lastly, though climate change is finally being acknowledged, watch the movie “Carbon Nation” to see why even “greedy ba***rds” love energy efficiency.

Is everything rosy? No. But my grandmother couldn’t vote and my father lived through war in Nazi Germany. The Berlin wall came down, smallpox was eradicated, and we sent men into space without modern computers. Rivers no longer catch fire and the California Condor was saved from extinction. Think of what we can do now. Think of what we will do now. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Listen to the dreamers. If we do that, we’ll be better than OK.

Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official, and mom living in Santa Clarita. 

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