Thursday, May 20, 2010


Yoots, 2003

Every now and then, such as when someone on television ridicules the lack of knowledge of current affairs or history among a group of young people, I wonder about our future. I suspect every older generation throughout history has worried that the younger generation would screw things up. But I’m not one of those pessimists. If I didn’t believe the future held opportunity and promise, I’d see no need to get out of bed in the morning.

I recently attended a panel discussion about “brain drain.” This isn’t a new idea or one that’s unique to the area where I live. The promise of opportunity has created massive migrations of people across oceans and continents for hundreds of years. Restless young people have always wanted to get away from home to make their mark. Talented young people have always felt the tug of larger, more tolerant cities.

Ironically, I had a conversation with the headmaster of my old prep school about this issue just a few days before the panel discussion took place. We expressed pride at the many interesting things graduates of the school were doing all around the world. But we also expressed disappointment that there was not enough to draw their talents back here.

The panel discussion was a valuable glimpse into why this is happening. The panelists were five bright young “creative class” individuals: a newspaper reporter; a human resources manager; a university economics professor; the founder of a nationally renown design firm; and the co-founder of an alternate online news and culture “zine.”

The group displayed all the understandable hubris you’d expect of young, ambitious people. But this particular group was impressive not only in their intellect and ambition, but also in their commitment to be part of shaping the future of our area. All five are the kinds of people any organization would want to employ. All could probably find greater and more rapid success in other places. But they have made a commitment to this area, even if that means they will carry more of the burden of making it into the kind of place they want to live than they would have to anywhere else.

The other impressive thing about this panel discussion was that the audience was full of other young people with similar talents and similar commitment to this area. I wasn’t the only person over the age of fifty present. But the preponderance of people there were probably somewhere between twenty-five and thirty. They were lively, asked good questions and as enthusiastic in their commitment to this area as the panelists. As a group, they’re taking it upon themselves to create opportunity.

One of the most prescient comments of the evening, and one that I wish more people could have heard, came from a young man who moved here from Connecticut a little over a year ago to pursue an advanced degree. He’d lived in New York and also in Europe. He admitted that after moving her he’d quickly fallen into the trap of making fun of how backward this area is compared to some of the country’s more progressive precincts.

But somewhere along the way he realized that he could either continue to whine or else take it upon himself to be part of making this area into the kind of place he’d like to live.

So that’s that this young bunch is doing. They’re making a commitment to stay here and to be part of the future. When it would be easier and cheaper for them to set up shop in the suburbs, they’re buying old buildings and drawing other talented people who want to be involved in something exciting back downtown to work, live and play. Their presence attracts other young talented people. Bright minds want to be around other bright minds.

I’m feeling better about the future already.


  1. I loved living in Hampton Roads.

    It is not tropical, but you have blooming camellia bushes in January. You have the occasional 70 degree day in winter when you can go for a walk on the boardwalk, or First Landing State Park.

    You're close to Williamsburg and Edenton.

    The sky is so blue.

    I'd move back in a minute if I could.

  2. I agree--it's a pretty nice place!