I discovered a little mystery on the Internet last night. It began when I followed a link to the website, The Smile Collective. There I found ‘A Manifesto for Youth’ based on some inspiring words that had been doing the rounds online. It was a bracing, no-holds barred letter to teenagers, apparently written by a judge and quoted by a New Zealand school principal. I did a bit of digging, and found there was a much older, original version, written by a Denver judge over 50 years ago. I found two newspapers both taking credit for publishing it in 1959, and while most reports attributed it to Judge Philip B. Gilliam, another said he was merely quoting another author. At this point, I hung up my sleuth’s hat, and decided to simply share the words with my readers.
The Pierce County Tribune wrote:
“A little research on Judge Gilliam found him to be a highly respected judge in the Denver Juvenile Court and Juvenile Hall from 1940 until his death in 1975. During his time on the bench, he spent his time protecting children and ensuring their proper treatment in the court system.”
Open letter to Teen-ager
Always we hear the plaintive cry of the teen-ager. What can we do?…Where can we go?
The answer is GO HOME!
Hang the storm windows, paint the woodwork. Rake the leaves, mow the lawn, shovel the walk. Wash the car, learn to cook, scrub some floors. Repair the sink, build a boat, get a job.
Help the minister, priest, or rabbi, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army. Visit the sick, assist the poor, study your lessons. And then when you are through – and not too tired – read a book.
Your parents do not owe you entertainment. Your city or village does not owe you recreational facilities.
The world does not owe you a living…You owe the world something.
You owe it your time and your energy and your talents so that no one will be at war or in poverty or sick or lonely again.
Grow up; quit being a crybaby. Get out of your dream world and develop a backbone, not a wishbone, and start acting like a man or a lady.
You’re supposed to be mature enough to accept some of the responsibility your parents have carried for years.
They have nursed, protected, helped, appealed, begged, excused, tolerated and denied themselves needed comforts so that you could have every benefit. This they have done gladly, for you are their dearest treasure.
But now, you have no right to expect them to bow to every whim and fancy just because selfish ego instead of common sense dominates your personality, thinking and request.
In Heaven’s name, grow up and go home!
– South Bend Tribune, Sunday, Dec. 6, 1959.
It seems the piece is aimed at someone like James Dean’s character in Rebel Without a Cause, a film released a few years earlier that depicted teens hanging around with nowhere to go, and out of boredom, racing cars to a cliff face before leaping to safety. Perhaps Judge Gilliam saw a lot of kids in his courthouse that he believed didn’t need to be there; kids that had they just “grown up”, “gone home” and stopped thinking the world owed them something, could have amounted to a productive adult.
But the message reads a little harsh to my 21st century sensibilities. Or am I just too soft? It’s just that I haven’t met one teenager I’d feel comfortable saying this to. Sure, they can sometimes be annoyingly self-focused and whinge about small inconveniences, but can’t we all occasionally? And I agree, teens do need to spend time at home, help out their parents, contribute to the community. But they also need time to hang out with friends and explore their neighbourhood. On the whole, the teenagers I’ve met are smart, considerate, funny, and care about social and environmental issues.
But in case you do know or have a teenager who needs a bit of a wake-up call, print out this manifesto from Swish Design and stick it on the toilet door. It’s based on Judge Gilliam’s speech, but it’s a little kinder, more modern, and focuses on inspiring teens to contribute to the world to make it a better place.