Back in December, while I was feeling that combined anxiety, stress, and excitement about finals, the semester ending, and winter break imminently approaching, I found myself thinking a lot about the future of Maine. Why Maine?

In part because Maine is, and has always been, home for me, but also because I was lucky enough to attend Educate Maine’s annual symposium on education. The theme that dominated the day’s discussions was how inextricably linked Maine’s future is to the future of how we think about, prioritize, and approach education.

Some of the standout moments of the day included learning about how University of Maine Farmington is addressing our state’s teacher shortage by changing the way it attracts and supports students interested in teaching careers. Another highlight was learning about the steps that are being taken to help Maine’s prison inmates pursue a college education and the approaches school districts are taking to diversify their teacher workforce to match changing student demographics.

There were many other examples of creative, phenomenal, and largely unknown educational initiatives going on around this state, and they all reaffirmed my belief that an investment in education must be the cornerstone of Maine’s future growth and success.

I am especially grateful to our State Treasurer, Terry Hayes, for inviting me to attend this symposium with her, following a discussion we had about the future direction of educational policies, and where we both would like to see Maine headed.

Not only was I struck by Terry’s genuine interest in my thoughts, but also by the philosophy she embodies when it comes to involving and mentoring Maine’s next generation of leaders. Terry makes it her practice to invite members of the younger generation to attend events with her, because she recognizes the connection between keeping young people in Maine and showing us that we have some skin in the game.

Both Terry and I have lived in what is now the oldest state in America for our whole lives, so we’re both aware that when we walk into events like these, where important conversations about our state’s future are taking place, the room is usually full of gray hair.

This is a problem, because members of my generation are missing out on critical opportunities to gain real-world experience and important learning in the fields we’re passionate about from knowledgeable and experienced individuals.

On the flip side of the coin, the decision-makers of today are also missing out on opportunities to learn from the perspectives and experiences of younger generations who are, or soon will be, deciding whether or not they want to start college, their careers, or their families here in Maine.

Terry explained to me that this is why she regularly challenges her peers to seek out younger people and invite them to the table where these critical discussions are being held. She recognizes that, sooner or later, the torch will be passed, and the more prepared we are to take on the responsibilities of leading our state, the better the future will be for all of us.

My thanks go out to Educate Maine for facilitating such an important discussion about our future and for honoring the phenomenal educators and community leaders that are making critical investments in our students and our future. And I especially want to thank to our independent State Treasurer, Terry Hayes, for being such a strong advocate for bringing the next generation to the table when important discussions are taking place.

Following her example, I, too, will strive to encourage my peers to bridge generational divides and join these conversations to listen, learn, and get prepared to lead.