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Preparing the Transition Generation for Leadership in a Changing World

The first in a series of Oxford University-Cushing Academy conversations about the future of humanity and the implications for secondary education took place on campus on May 5. The discussion, entitled “The Promise and Challenge of Emerging Technologies: Preparing the Transition (“T”) Generation for Leadership in the 21st Century,” was moderated by Headmaster Tracy.
The panel featured guests Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the James Martin 21st Century School of the University of Oxford; Juan Enriquez, chairman and CEO of Biotechonomy; and Joel Garreau, author, editor and reporter at The Washington Post. Panelists fielded questions from Tracy and students on education, technological advances, and preparing for the future. An interactive clicker voting session concluded the discussion with students casting votes on a series of questions and analyzing collective answers.

“We gather today at Cushing Academy in an unparalleled moment in human history,” said Tracy. “Forces of astonishingly rapid and potent change are being unleashed simultaneously in multiple technologies. At the same time, and related to these developments, the world is increasingly both hot and flat, as Thomas Friedman reminds us. In his remarkable book, The Meaning of the 21st Century, which was read and extensively discussed by the entire Cushing faculty, James Martin refers to our current age as humanity’s ‘make-or-break century.’ The risks to civilization and our species are significant going forward, but the potential for improvement of the human condition is equally profound. Many in the media today are talking about the enormous changes that technology will bring to the 21st century, but few are talking about you, the students in this audience. Yet it is you who will be the leaders of this century. How we harness these technologies, how we realize transformative opportunities, how we mitigate and control dangers, and whether we ‘make or break’ will very soon be in your hands and your hands alone.”

Addressing major changes wrought by technology in students’ lifetime, Bostrom noted the wild card posed by biotechnology. While the general growth of technology, virtual reality, improvements in medicine and economic growth are on track to happen, there are variables out there that have the potential to change the rules of the game. “The human condition as we know it could be replaced. But for better or worse is the question.” In preparing for the future, Bostrom urged students to hone their conversation and presentation skills.

“Part of what makes this so fun is that we don’t know what will happen in a week or a month. When opportunity comes, be smart enough to take it,” said Enriquez. He urged students to “understand the risks before you step on the boat,” but also to do things outside their comfort zone. “There are so many interesting worlds – have the people around you be your tutors.”

For Garreau, “the future is not a straight-line projection. It’s coming at us faster than ever. In a period of accelerated change, it’s not so much what you teach but how you think. You need to focus on what is true and how to get to the point of asking what is true.. Part of what you should be figuring out is what you’re good at and what you like to do. Go take changes. Understand where change is coming from and how you have to change and you will be a lot happier.”

Cushing Academy

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Ashburnham, Massachusetts 01430

Cushing Academy

Cushing Academy exists for students and develops curious, creative, and confident learners and leaders. Founded in 1865, Cushing is a co-ed, college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9-12 and PG. Our students, who come from over 30 states and 30 countries, excel in our outstanding academic, art, and athletic offerings. We welcome you to visit our community and beautiful 162-acre campus in Ashburnham, Mass., just one hour from Boston, to experience all that Cushing has to offer.