One of my daughters called me recently while I was in Washington and said, “Dad, I’m scared.” I replied, “Don’t worry about it, sweetie. It’ll be alright. Just stay by your sister.” She said, “It’s not that. It’s my first job.” She was talking about detasseling.
Given all the problems in the world and the ongoing drama in Washington, it’s easy to overlook something that’s right in the world: that extraordinary summer ritual in our great state during detasseling season. What would compel thousands of young people to enter cold, predawn fields and work all day long until it is scorching hot, fighting off insects and corn rash? What would compel kids to gladly get up at an unseemly hour and do it again the next morning, and the morning after that, for weeks at a time each summer?
Whatever that motive is, it captures the essence of Nebraska values. It illustrates the connection between effort and reward, between individual initiative and teamwork, between personal motivation and good outcome. On my family’s particular crew, kids work in squads with a leader. As a young person progresses and improves, there are opportunities to move up the leadership ladder, taking on more responsibility and earning higher wages.
As our society continues to struggle with economy recovery and with understanding the basic nature of what an economy should produce, the sight of Nebraskan kids wading into cornfields affirms our sense of the dignity of labor. Work is about making a difference, transforming the world into a more livable place, and putting food on the table. Some jobs are dull or worse. Some are rewarding. But good work can bring meaning into life, especially when a team of persons pulls together. Unemployment and underemployment are painful realities for some families. Economy recovery is a complicated process, but the higher ideal of what good work really means ought to be a part of our national discussion.
A New York radio station once called me to ask why Nebraska's statistics of wellbeing are off the charts. For a moment I was tempted to simply reply "detasseling.” I thought better of it—and went on to speak about our rich agriculture heritage and the character of our people. With so many difficulties surrounding us, it’s great to see Nebraska’s young people carry forward the values that lead to our robust economy and strong communities.