Graduates of Pomona College in Southern California recently learned some lessons during their commencement — many of them inspired by 9-year-olds.
Deborah Bial, the founder of Posse Foundation, a youth leadership and education access organization that helps students of color attend selective colleges, was the commencement speaker at Pomona on May 15.
In preparation for her speech, Bial spoke with 53 kids between the ages of 8 and 10. She also had each child fill out a worksheet with 10 questions. Bial wanted to learn what the young kids were interested in, and what they wanted to tell college graduates.
The kids she talked to like video games, meatballs, bubble gum, ice cream and jump rope, Bial reported to the grads. One kid said they wanted to be president so they could tell the world to be “happy and nonviolent.”
The children were also very aware of current events, including the candidacy of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“Of the 53 students who completed the worksheet, more than a third of them wrote that they were afraid of [Trump],” Bial said. “One little boy said ‘No one should be sent to another place without their family.'”
“To my surprise, their conversation focused heavily on racism and hate,” she went on. “They worry that the next president will keep Muslims out, or will deport their parents. They began a conversation during which they explained that they are worried that all black people could be sent to Africa. One said, ‘For me, I am worried that the next president will bring back racism because he’s going to send all black people to Africa and then he’s gonna kick Mexicans out so only white people can have the whole New York to themselves.’ I found this heartbreaking.”
“While they are picking up a lot from their parents, they’re also dwelling in a place to fear that we formerly reserved for adults,” Bial said. She noted that many of the world’s current problems — from gender inequalities to gun violence and poverty — are ones that Bial’s generation failed to fix.
“The kids had a lot of pretty good ideas,” Bial said. “They want cool technology. They want the future to be peaceful caring and happy. They want the whole world to have hope and faith. Their ideas were reasonable. One told me, ‘I think the president should make sure there’s peace around the world and you don’t just start kicking people out of where they live in and start sending them somewhere else.’ They thought there should be talking instead of violence, including in the Oval Office. They thought the president should just talk to people and reason with them.”
Bial left the graduates with a plea on behalf of those elementary school children she’d spoken with.
“There are approximately 4.1 million 9-year-olds in the country today,” she said. “We entrust their future to you. In only a little more than a decade, they will be sitting here in your chairs. They will walk in the footsteps you place on this platform.”
“It will be their turn,” she went on. “Today, it’s yours. So don’t forget the 9-year-old in yourself, and all the 9-year-olds that are looking to you to pave the way.”
You can watch Bial’s full speech in the video above.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist