Next generation ready for civility

Two Harbors DECA students Makenna Coan and Thatcher Sunday speak about a Jan. 26 Civility Summit on a Fox 21 Morning Show broadcast. (PHOTO: Fox 21 screenshot)

Today’s high school students were born in the 21st Century. Like the millennials before them, they grow up with the internet. But not only that, smart phones, tablets and social media have been part of their lives for as long as they can remember.

Anyone who communicates using social media knows the pros and the cons. You connect with a broad group of people, finding many who share your interests. On the other hand, you can say things you wouldn’t say to a person’s face without experiencing the effects of your words. What is “real” and what is “fake,” especially when it comes to emotions, becomes more difficult to read.

This spills into our schools, as young people struggle to find empathy. They navigate peer pressure and the same out-of-place feelings that adolescents have always experienced. But all of this takes place in a world in which grown-ups scream at each other in new, disturbing ways. So, we see a recipe for a broken society.

But students at Two Harbors High School in northern Minnesota say it’s time for change. And they’re spreading the message far beyond their small community on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

“A few months back, we noticed a huge decline in respect and integrity that we thought needed to change,” said Thatcher Sunday, a junior at Two Harbors High.

Sunday said young women didn’t feel safe in the hallways. Kids spoke to each other with harsh words. Bullying became an issue online and at school. Sunday said the issue is lack of awareness.

“As adolescents and teens, we grew up with this mindset of whatever you say isn’t going to affect anybody,” said Sunday. “We can say anything over a screen because we don’t have to say that face to face. What we want to help accomplish is show students that this is an issue. What you say carries weight and we need to respect and value that. That was a huge thing for our school. A lot of students don’t know that they’re doing anything disrespectful.”

The student athlete and his friends approached the school principal about the problem. He suggested they involve the DECA club, the local chapter of a competitive international organization teaching business and entrepreneurship. They did, and the whole club got involved in coming up with a plan.

“The last several years our DECA Chapter has made it all the way to international competing against over 20,000 others from around the world,” said Janelle Jones, president of the Two Harbors Chamber of Commerce and advisor to the DECA club. “This year instead of the usual ‘creative marketing’ project they do, they came to us and said they wanted to do a public service project because they are tired of the way people are treating each other. Then it took a life of its own. They have been working hard and it has turned into a really big deal. They are so excited to be making a difference.”

On Friday, Jan. 26, the Two Harbors DECA club will host a regional Civility Summit at the Two Harbors High School auditorium. The event features a keynote speech by nationally-known civility expert Dr. Mike Thomson. More than 20 regional high schools were invited to send a busload of kids. At least 13 schools have committed to coming, as have several area businesses.

This isn’t just an issue with schools, it’s an issue in the workplace,” said Sunday.

There’s still time for students, professionals and community members to participate in the Jan. 26 Civility Summit. Just e-mail Sunday said the event is designed to make an impact beyond just one day. Participants will take ideas back to their schools and workplaces and receive updates throughout the year.

“By changing yourself, constantly improving your character, that will spread,” said Sunday. “You will be the role model.”

These days many assume that everything gets worse with time. These young people show that the next generation of Northern Minnesotans will fight to make the world a better place.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. I’m happy to see young people take the initiative to bring back civility and I hope a lot of adults plan to attend the Civility Summit. May this effort spread across the Northland.

  2. Civility would be great but it would mean that when your neighbor explains that homosexual acts are sin and will result in damnation in the absence of repentance you don’t get to say he’s a bigot or a homophobe. I’m not sure everyone is ready for that.

  3. If your “neighbor” has such an unhealthy obsession with homosexuality or any orientation other than straight, then he/she is free to say or verbally disparage others but he/she shouldn’t pretend to be surprised or affronted to get pushback. Of course, people are free to call your “neighbor” a bigot or homophobe when he/she acts like one. It’s plain old bullying.

    I can’t imagine why your “neighbor” cares what orientation others are. We come into the world with our own orientations, not a choice nor contagious to others if that’s what your “neighbor” is worrying his/her little mind about. He/she should mind his/her own business.

    I hope your neighbor will attend a Civility Seminar if available. If he/she has kids or grandkids, they’re already learning how to be rude, mean and discourteous from the so-called adults in the family.

  4. independant says

    Although I would not personally agree with the beliefs held by a person David Gray describes I feel you have all missed his point. Someone’s personal beliefs on the topic described is often based on their religion and tradition and that alone absolutely does not qualify someone as a bigot or a homophobe. Throwing words around like that are often intellectually lazy.

    • David Gray says

      I’m glad someone understood. But we also have examples of why civility will not be possible with some of the elements of current culture. The good news is they are, in historical terms, utterly fringe and will expire in relatively short order. Reality will not be trifled with. Perhaps then we can have a civil society.

  5. Indy, then personal opinions that are hostile or hurtful should be kept personal. Telling people they will suffer damnation for not repenting they weren’t born straight is morally and intellectually bankrupt and deliberately mean.

    • David Gray says

      And again we have evidence of why we won’t have civility in our society. And the subject doesn’t even understand why.

    • independant says

      kissa, doesn’t context come into play here? If I have someone express to me in a genuine way that my not being a Christian will result in my damnation should I be offended? Are they hateful or a bad person? Should I inform them that I am more enlightened and obviously more intelligent because I do not believe in their fairytale? Or maybe it would be best to have a civil conversation and possibly learn a little something from each other. I love having a few cocktails with people I don’t agree with on political or social issues because often times afterwards I have things to consider and contemplate. Don’t get offended easily or the only people you will associate with are people who think exactly like you and that is a great way to stop learning.

  6. So anything based on religion or tradition is acceptable? I don’t think so…

  7. Tolerating intolerance is not civility. Apparently your idea of civility is turning a blind eye to inequality.

  8. A few quotes on civility,
    Civility costs nothing and buys everything.
    Any action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those who are present.
    Play fair. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
    Don’t be a jerk.
    If the “neighbor” is telling people, unsolicited, his/her belief that gay/lgbt people will be damned if they don’t repent, he/she is being disrespectful. Most people, gay or straight, would be offended. It’s quite different when adults mutually agree to discuss religious beliefs.
    When our kids and grandkids are subject to more and more uncivility, taunting and bullying for being lgbt, non-white, female, disabled or even shy and awkward, it’s up to adults to set better standards.

  9. One was George Washington but never mind.

  10. Mr Gray keeps telling us over and over who he is.

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