Boris Johnson today compared teenagers who “came of age” in the coronavirus pandemic with the young people who served in World War II and the hippy generation who fought for civil rights in the 1960s.
In a special address to 550,000 children leaving school this month, he predicted they would become “one of the most important and influential generations in the peacetime history of our nation”.
“Your generation has come of age facing a challenge like no other generation before you,” the Prime Minister said in the online broadcast to homes and classrooms.
“And just as previous generations have had their own missions, from the wartime generation that rebuilt Britain in the 1950s, to those who fought for greater rights and equality in the 1960s and 70s, yours will be to make your way in the world, as we build a better, fairer Britain.”
The address was Mr Johnson’s own idea and was formed during efforts to get schools up and running again. “He was very conscious that this generation will not have the celebrations and farewells that other leavers had,” said an aide.
The Prime Minister said the class of 2020 would look back “with pride” at how they endured lockdown. “Because of your sacrifice, we have saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” he said.
“In fact one day, many years from now, people are going to look back, and they are going to ask you what it was like to live through the lockdown.
“And while you might not have tales of a lost summer of music festivals and house parties, you will be able to talk with pride not just of the lives you helped save but of the country you helped rebuild.”
School leavers face uncertain job prospects and disruption at universities. Mr Johnson said they “had to grow up a bit faster” because their final year at school coincided with “the greatest crisis our country has faced since the Second World War”.
But he promised: “We are going to need bright, brilliant young people like you.
“And that strength of character and those qualities you forged during lockdown - empathy, resilience, self-discipline and patience - those are the qualities that are we are going to need as we make our society fairer, make our air cleaner, stop our planet getting warmer.”
He said their journey would not be easy, and urged them to “be kind” to others and “to jump on every opportunity that comes your way, and rugby tackle it to the floor”.