It was here that I was asked one of the more interesting questions, “After the New South, how would you describe the region?”
The question assumes, correctly, that the New South was a moment that had a definable beginning and end. It was a decade of exciting, affirmative change when the nation looked at us with friendly surprise. It began with the 1970 election of five progressive Southern governors and ended with Jimmy Carter’s defeat in 1980.
A roster of the winners in the wave of progressivism that swept the region in 1970 would include Democrats Askew of Florida, Bumpers of Arkansas, Carter of Georgia and West of South Carolina and Republican Holton of Virginia.
Each of these men in his own way said the South must discard the retarding demagoguery and mythologies of the past and take up an agenda of real problems to improve lives of all people in the South.
It was a good feeling to have an active role in the New South movement and, for a change, to receive the approval and friendly curiosity of the nation. We were part of the Sunbelt, where things were happening, unlike the worn-out industries of the Rust Belt, which were struggling.
Unfortunately, none of the students in the audience at UNA or any campus in the South today would experience that good feeling. They all were born after 1980, witnesses to the monotonous construction of a one-party Republican South, which is not substantially different from the one-party Democratic South it replaced.
One-party states or nations such as Russia are sterile societies where everyone is expected to look, think, speak and act alike.
It would be gratifying to know that anything I said here or on other campuses inspired a spark of mission in any of the students, especially since there is evidence that “millennials,” as this generation is known, are looking for some way to make a difference in their careers.
A 2011 report commissioned by the Career Advisory Board and conducted by Harvard Interactive found that the No. 1 factor that young adults 21 to 31 wanted in a successful career was a sense of meaning.
Though older managers or professors continued to think this generation is primarily motivated by money, nearly three-quarters of the young adults surveyed said that “meaningful work was one of the three most important factors in defining career success.”
Scholars from the Hoover Institution and Stanford Graduate Business School found that “When individuals adopt what we call a meaning mind-set — that is they seek connections, give to others and orient themselves to a larger purpose — clear benefits can result, including improved psychological well-being, more creativity and enhanced work performance.”
If all students and recent graduates knew that all these internal good feelings can be had in addition to a paycheck, the workplace and society in general would be more vital.
The scholars also have a tip and benefit to the bosses: “Workers who find their jobs meaningful are more engaged and less likely to leave their present positions.”
Why shouldn’t millennials seek the benefits of outer orientations; generations before them did. Their great-grandfathers who fought World War II certainly did. And my generation, the second finest, found satisfaction in defeating legal racism, a challenge the Founding Fathers couldn’t win.
So, when I go back on the road again in the New Year, I’ll have a new theme for college students — a dare and a salute to the future Third Finest Generation.
H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.