I would like to thank Brankica Jovanović, Dragan Čurović, and everyone at the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality for inviting me to be with you this morning and to take part in the opening of this fantastic exhibition, Bridge of Understanding.
I would also like to recognize Harvey Lloyd, a groundbreaking photographer whose career has spanned decades and styles – everything from aerial photography and nature, to the abstract expressions of his most recent project, Breaking the Light. He is an artist of the highest caliber and, at 91, living proof that age is nothing but a number.
Today’s opening commemorates the International Day of Older Persons. Since this commemoration began in 1990, the world’s population demographics have changed dramatically. The number of people worldwide 60 years or older has grown to nearly a billion. And it continues to grow. I should know, since I joined those ranks last year. That’s probably why Brankica invited me here today. And one day, God willing, all of you will also be so blessed.
In America, nearly 15 percent of our population is over 65, and this percentage is scheduled to grow in the decades ahead. Here in Serbia, nearly one in five Serbians have reached that milestone.
Older people are not any less a person. If anything, they have more to offer. The poet Wordsworth once said:
The wiser mind mourns less for what age takes away than what it leaves behind.”
The experience, maturity and wisdom that comes from living a long and productive life are a blessing for any society.
Increasingly, with advances in medicine and public health, the vitality of our senior citizens is on display every day, allowing them to make significant contributions to our societies. Yes, we old folks are grandparents, parents, great aunts and uncles. But we are also mentors, community leaders and volunteers, elected officials, and essential members of the workforce or the backbone of a family and the caregivers to future generations. Senior citizens are not just those that have led full lives, they are still leading full lives. Because someone is over 60 does not mean that they have stopped carrying dreams and hopes.
Unfortunately, too many older adults are frequently victims of discrimination, exploitation, abuse, and neglect. They commonly face discrimination at work, in hospitals, and when dealing with police or courts.
But I am convinced that our communities are stronger when everyone, no matter your gender or ethnic background or age, has the opportunity to contribute to the fullest extent of their talents and abilities. The International Day of Older Persons exists to remind us of that fact.
And this exhibition reminds us of something else, equally important – the need to “bridge the gap” between old and young. We need to be doing more in our communities to restore relationships between generations. I say restore because I think this is something you in Serbia understand. You have a long tradition of grandparents living close to their grandchildren, often under the same roof.
The benefits of intergenerational relationships are becoming more pronounced and profound each year. Research indicates that programs connecting young people with older adult volunteers cultivate an incredible sense of purpose in the older participants, but the benefits extend both ways. Intergenerational connections ensure children and teens receive the attention and mentoring they often lack in the modern era. They offer older adults the satisfaction of sharing the wisdom of their experiences, while also learning to see the world from a younger perspective. And yes, we appreciate it if you will fix our computer and find the remote control for the TV every once and a while!
As you walk through this exhibition, please try to take a minute to say hello to someone from a different generation. Talk with one another and learn from one another, young and old.
On this year’s International Day of Older Persons, and every day going forward, let’s make a committed effort to ensure that every person has the opportunity to fully participate in their communities, throughout their hopefully long and fulfilling lives.