The Kids Are Alright

07/27/2015 02:18 pm ET Updated Jul 27, 2016

Millennials and the Gen Z's who follow them are the target of persistent criticism. To draw on sweeping generalizations, they're coddled, entitled, needy, and lazy. They rely too much on their parents and are too tied up in electronic communications. The list goes on... but I don't see it that way.

Let me share some observations about the leadership I witness on my campus, Susquehanna University, and from student-athletes across the country. Today's student-athletes make me believe that we might well be watching the emergence of our next "greatest generation."

Powerful Leadership

NCAA student-athletes, alongside athletic conferences, media companies and the White House, are fighting campus sexual assault -- a major problem in our society and on our campuses -- through the "It's On Us" campaign. The necessary leadership provided by our student-athletes makes me hopeful that we can begin to address the cultural issues that underlie this scourge. Their influence can help create sustained momentum for tackling this issue. Their voices, which too often in the past were absent from these efforts, can have major impact on the behavior of their peers.

Even more impressive, The NCAA Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) is attacking homophobia in athletics through the "You Can Play" campaign. Athletics may have been one of the last bastions of homophobia in our society. Locker rooms and playing fields have been filled with hateful acts including negative stereotyping, sexually violent hazing rituals, and the hurling of epithets in practices and games. The courage of the DIII student-athletes to call such behavior inappropriate and to reach out with an inclusive message is both refreshing and brave. The locker rooms of high schools, colleges and professional sports teams all need such role models to step forward to overcome homophobia.

Commitment to Service

There's ample evidence that adults under 30 volunteer at higher rates than previous generations and that's supported by the outreach from student-athletes.

The NCAA Division III SAAC has partnered with the Special Olympics to foster a mutual learning experience between both groups of student-athletes. Through the partnership, Division III student-athletes across the country create and participate in Special Olympic events and support the Special Olympics organization with sports clinics, social activities and fundraising.

On my own campus, students and student-athletes alike regularly express their commitment to serving others. Last year, our men's basketball team participated in a reading program that sent them into the local elementary school for four sessions with 4th graders. Our women's field hockey team regularly visits with a 5th grade class for craft projects, schoolwork help and anti-bullying campaigns. Our football team participates in a blood marrow-matching program that led a four-year member of the team to donate his marrow to an anonymous patient, sacrificing two games this fall to do so.

The commitment of our student-athletes and other student organizations provide ample evidence that we have an unusual and special generation that will serve as outstanding citizen-leaders in the years ahead.

Open Hearts

These examples of leadership and civic-mindedness are also an illustration of this generation's tolerance toward differences and their collective understanding of our impacts on one another and on the planet. They have hearts for justice with minds bent towards finding pragmatic ways to address problems and to seek redress of inequities.

Millennials and Gen Z's are the future whether we like it or not. In my roles as college president, vice chair of the NCAA Division III President's Council and a member of the NCAA's Board of Governors, I'm fortunate to get a close look at our nation's future. I like what I see. If our nation's student-athletes are any indication - and I think they are - we have little to fear. The future will be in good hands.