A Millennial within Silicon Valley may be many things, few of them admirable or even impressive, but that person is most certainly not a “whiz kid,” with its connotation of genius — the child prodigy who excels at music and mathematics, for example; fluent in the notation and the physics of vibration, on the one hand, and skilled in the language (and its many dialects) that God talks, on the other — because, while references to wizardry may be part of the Valley’s vernacular, the emphasis should be on kids: Precocious and petulant savants, not renaissance men and women, who do not have the intelligence (beyond their command of a single discrete discipline like coding or engineering), never mind the wisdom born of success and failure, to make judgments about leadership and hiring.
Divorced from the college dormitory, and minus the obligatory rubber-stamping of papers with an A+ and the assignation of awards, ribbons, prizes, plaques and academic trophies, the real world — that mysterious place outside the wrought iron gates of this self-enclosed community of overachievers — is very different for the children flocking toward Northern California, their nap mats rolled under their arms and letters (about their peanut allergies, and emergency contact numbers) fastened to their hoodies.
Compared to graduates from the same elite universities from more than 70 years ago, from the now-abandoned aristocracy of wealth to the institutionalization of an aristocracy of talent, what these schools gain in SAT scores and the universal enrollment of high school valedictorians, they lose by an incalculable amount through something that predates Latin mottos about Truth, Man’s Hope in God, Light and Truth, and the Light to See the Light.
These whiz kids, unlike the forbears of their respective alma maters, in contrast to men with surnames such as Roosevelt, Kennedy, Lodge and Bush, today’s dropouts — they do not even bother to graduate, lest they forfeit a generous round of seed capital for an education — lack the insight, and they have no appreciation for the particular sort of personal honor that would propel a sickly PT boat Lieutenant (Junior Grade) to use his teeth to clench down on a life jacket strap and drag a member of his crew to safety, on Plum Pudding Island, in the Japanese-controlled atolls of the South Pacific; or to (temporarily) forgo matriculation at Yale, so he can fly his Grumman TBF Avenger through intense anti-aircraft fire and parachute from his bomber, ablaze with enemy flak, and escape capture and torture from the Axis powers.
In peacetime, the men who would be president — this bipartisan fraternity of the free and the brave — would make it a point to recruit the elder statesmen of finance and diplomacy, and the masters of statecraft and stagecraft.
Today’s whiz kids can learn a lot from such men of decency.
They can learn to look at age as a symbol of experience, not a handicap of life.