“Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.” Dubiously attributed to Socrates
“Ignorance, intolerance, egotism, self-assertion, opaque perception, dense and pitiful chuckle headedness – and an almost pathetic unconsciousness of it all, that is what I was at nineteen and twenty.” Mark Twain
Disputing the claims
After nearly 23,000 miles and more than seven months alone at sea, Jessica Watson, a 16-year-old girl from Australia recently became the youngest person ever to circumnavigate the world solo, non-stop and unassisted. Prior to Jessica’s achievement, the youngest sailor to accomplish the same feat was an 18-year-old boy, Jesse Martin, also from Australia. In 1999, Martin sailed a longer route, but sailed the same model of boat as Jessica – a Sparkman & Stephens 34.
What were you and I doing at age 16? As for me, I was trying to pass the test for my driver’s license for the second time. I went to school, competed on the wrestling team, did as little homework as I could get away with, watched some television, and went to sleep in a warm, dry bed, my belly full from a delicious dinner my mother had cooked. Judging from his quote above, apparently Mark Twain hadn’t done much better in his teens.
But at that same tender age, Jessica Watson, all 5’7″and 120 pounds of her, with a few stuffed animals for company, has been sailing alone day and night, night and day, non-stop for more than 200 days. She has dared to take on a vast ocean through cold and wet, storms and calms, relying on only herself for her every bodily comfort and survival. She has enjoyed radio and Internet communication, and she has blogged almost daily about her passage, but those electronic tidbits were of precious little assistance when a storm and high seas knocked her boat flat on its side four times in one day.
During the course of her remarkable voyage, Jessica rounded the famously treacherous Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope, crossed the equator twice, every meridian of longitude, and returned to Sydney, Australia from where she cast off back in October 2009.
Why did she do it?
Jessica has been the target of more than a little criticism. Although she has spent most of her life on the water with her family, she has been assailed for being too young, too inexperienced, too small and female. Also, the World Speed Sailing Record Council no longer certifies sailing records by people under 18 years of age.
So why in the world would a young girl undertake such a monumental goal? In Jessica’s own words, “I wanted to challenge myself and achieve something to be proud of. And yes, I wanted to inspire people. I hate that so many dreams never actually become anything more than that, a dream. I’m not saying that everyone should buy a boat and take off around the world, but I hope that by achieving my own dream, I’m showing people that it is possible to reach their own goals, whatever they might be and however big or small.
“Also, I’d like to say that I’m not doing this to prove a point, but that wouldn’t be completely true. I hope that part of what I’m doing out here is proving that we shouldn’t judge by appearance and our own expectations. I want the world to know exactly what ‘little girls’ and young people are actually capable of!”
Is she the exception to the rule?
Are “kids today” as hopeless a cause as many would lead us to believe? Is Jessica Watson only a rare exception that proves the rule? Nope. Take a look at a few more kids whose accomplishments amaze and inspire.
Johnny Strange. In 2009, at 17 years of age, Johnny became the youngest person to climb the “Seven Summits”, the highest mountains on all seven continents. As an interesting sidenote, the person whose record he surpassed was an 18-year-old girl, Samantha Larson.
Erika DeBenedictis, 18. In 2010, Erika won the Intel Foundation’s top award of $100,000 for developing a software navigation system to help improve spacecraft travel through the solar system. Her research determined that gravity and the movement of planets create “easy transit routes”, which could help spacecraft travel faster with less fuel.
Christopher Paolini. He wrote the first draft of his novel Eragon at age 15, which was self-published until the major publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, released it when Christopher was 19. A few years later, in 2006, Fox 2000 released the major motion picture around the world.
Alexander Prior. The 17-year-old musician and composer of more than 40 works recently joined the Seattle Symphony Orchestra as an apprentice conductor, an appointment the orchestra described as “unprecedented.”
Ed Lange. In 1962, the 16-year-old was awarded his NY driver’s license on only his second attempt.
“Figuring out who you are is the whole point of the human experience.” – Anna Quindlen
Ed. Lange writes “Guy Stuff” monthly for Capital Region Living. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.