Little People, Big Dreams

By Tom Murray

I recently attended the pre-kindergarten graduation ceremony for my five-year old granddaughter. It was something to behold as she and a dozen or so of her friends assembled together in blue caps and gowns to receive their diplomas and the well wishes of their teachers as they move on to kindergarten. Too cute! As Moms and Dads smiled and recorded every moment of the event on their I-phones, I found myself pondering. (It is okay for grandfathers to ponder at these events. The kids think we are asleep or day dreaming and that is okay. For parents it is called inattentiveness and the little ones frown on that.) Anyway, as I looked at these little people swimming in their gowns with their mortar boards sliding down the sides of their heads, I found myself reflecting back on what we have done to make this planet a better place for these young people. Working as long as I have at EPA, I am allowed to ponder things like that.

As I watched each youngster walk over to receive a diploma, I wondered what their little minds must be thinking when they hear their parents talking about global warming, habitat loss or the global threat of disease. As they grow older and with information traveling faster than ever before, will they become so overloaded with unfiltered environmental information that they will become apathetic, seeking solace instead in video games and simple pleasures. How will they react?

I am a representative of a generation that grew up in the fifties and sixties when we were struggling with egg shell thinning, Love Canal, Times Beach and rivers catching fire due to heavy industrial pollution. We faced those problems head-on and never looked back as we continue today to wrestle with some very stubborn environmental problems. Will these children have the same drive, the same perseverance?

After the last child was announced, I glanced through the memory book that each child was given. You remember them. They have a picture of each student with a sentence describing his or her prominent personality trait. At the end of each, we find an oft asked question of young people, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Among the responses were the usual suspects: teachers, firefighters, rock stars (that from my granddaughter). But there was one that caught my eye. “I want to take care of Mother Earth”, the note said. I smiled at this one and thought, “We’ll keep the porch light on for you, little one.”

About the author: Tom Murray joined EPA way back in 1971 and has never lost the passion for pollution prevention and helping manufacturers become more sustainable.