My fellow Rotarians:
Lord Byron wrote, “The days of our youth are the days of our glory.” For me, that is the line that springs to mind whenever Rotary’s youth programs are mentioned. In Rotary, September is New Generations Month – a time to focus our attention on our programs for youth and the role they play in shaping the Rotarians of tomorrow.
Our youth programs – Interact, Rotaract, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, and Rotary Youth Exchange – are some of the most important programs of Rotary. I say this because of the unparalleled potential they have to influence young minds and souls toward peace, goodwill, and harmony. That potential is the greatest in youth because the experiences of our early years never leave us; they shape who we later become. In the words often attributed to St. Francis Xavier, “Give me a boy until he is seven, and I will give you the man.” For myself, I would give it a bit longer than that – but there is no doubt that the experiences of our youth have a greater formative power, and a greater ability to shape character, than any we may have in our adulthood.
When a teenager from the United States has the chance to travel to India to participate in a National Immunization Day, or when a student from Brazil spends a year studying in Japan, that person will be forever changed. These young people will have formed connections and affections that will endure. They will never think about their own country, or the world, in the same way again. Their perspective, their priorities, and their values will have been permanently shaped by that experience in a way that no later experiences will have the power to do. Your hard work ensures that these experiences continue to be possible – that these programs continue to be available, to be well run, and to earn the trust of the participants and their families.
The impressions of youth are strong, and they are lasting. There is never a second chance at them. We may grow and change as we get older, and we are surely changed by all of our experiences. But there is never another chance to build who we are. That happens only once: in our youth.
The days of our youth truly are the days of our glory – but through Rotary’s youth programs, those days become the glory of all of Rotary.
President, Rotary International