Given the incredible success of Team GB during the Olympics and morale boost of the Diamond Jubilee this year, it seems young people's pride in what it is to be British is as high and as clearly defined as it's ever been. Across the pond, Ireland too is searching its soul for what it means to be young and Irish, and the charge is being led from the front.
This time last year, President Michael D Higgins was making his case for becoming the ninth President of Ireland. It was an acerbic and merciless campaign but all through it, in many different places and in many different ways, he stressed the importance of embracing the young people of the country as being the key to a prosperous future. By encouraging them, by empowering them, by inspiring them to, as he said at the landmark SpunOut youth debate during the campaign, "be the arrow, not the target". The President wants to hear young people's opinions. And not just hear those opinions, but put them to good use too.
For his upcoming Being Young & Irish seminar that will take place in the autumn, President Higgins is eager to see the vision of the future held by Ireland's young people aged 17-26, what they have to say and what they hope to do, by sharing their views on his website. If you do, you could be featured on the Being Young & Irish Facebook page, where ideas on topics from health and education to the economy to the arts are pouring in. Whether you contribute in text, audio or video, or whether you're in Staten Island or Stoke Newington, your vision for the future of Ireland is welcome and wanted. By doing this, the young people of Ireland have a chance like never before to not just shape a Presidency, but the direction of the nation.
Ireland's young people are living in a time of profound uncertainty and contradiction. They are well educated but struggle to find the career prospects they deserve. They are bright and engaged but regularly portrayed as amoral and apathetic. They care about their communities but their attempts to stand up for them are often ignored. They are proud of their country but feel let down by it, and more and more feel that they can only fulfil their potential by leaving it. They don't want the tag of "Lost Generation" to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But, beyond the all-too-publicised gloom, there is a broad beam of hope. Over the last decade Ireland has witnessed a quiet revolution among its young people. It is a revolution of civic duty, of participation, of activism, with human rights and advocacy and community at its heart. This quiet revolution has found its way to youth councils, community groups, action groups, after-school clubs and summer schools all over the country. They reward creativity, embrace difference and bolster confidence, and they all have one thing in common: the notion that young people deserve to have a say and a hand in shaping the places where they live, and that their opinion matters.
Over the next while, I'll explore the issues President Higgins wants to address in greater detail in his seminar: the power young people have for transformative good, the power of generating positive debate, the power of the diaspora in this discussion and how in sharing ideas and rejecting passive cynicism for a more rigorous sense of active citizenship, truly great things can be achieved. In the meantime, if you're a young person, whoever and wherever in the world you are, if you have ideas for Ireland's future and feel passionately about them, follow the link and share them, the President would love to hear about it. As the famous Margaret Mead quote goes, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world". Imagine then what a whole nation could do.