Pine Nuts: 72 reasons to be hopeful |

Pine Nuts: 72 reasons to be hopeful

On Thursday I was bequeathed with the honor of welcoming 72 Fulbright Scholars to America.

Lake Tahoe was their gateway to America before flying out to their respective universities to engage their master and PhD studies. These gifted students came together in Tahoe City from 50 different countries, from Burkina Faso and Burma, to St. Lucia And Mongolia, these are the best and the brightest.

As the Ghost of Mark Twain I had to confess to them that I am as unlettered as the backside of a tombstone, but have gained worlds of knowledge at second hand, none of it correct. I told them I had two personal and selfish reasons for hoping they might discover America is still the land of opportunity and that they find a mate, get married and raise their families here.

“My two reasons are quite simple, one, you will make America a better place, and two, I won’t have to travel so far to see you. But it doesn’t really matter where you go, because you are going to make the world a better place.”

To be in the company of these high-energy kids for an afternoon and evening would turn Gloomy Gus into an unapologetic Pollyanna.

The American architects of this Tahoe gateway greeting were Dr. Carina Black and Michael Graf of the Northern Nevada International Center at University of Nevada, Reno. They had the imagination to create a scavenger hunt that divided the group into seven teams to perform at a half dozen stations and receive a number of toothpicks as rewards for their performance as it related to Lake Tahoe, and in my case, Mark Twain.

Prior to dinner, with toothpicks in hand, they were instructed to erect the tallest structure they could possibly construct with marshmallows.

Well, I never saw kids take to a task like that. They employed alpha helixes and structures of protein to heighten their marshmallow-toothpick towers, and they did it with panache and élan. The team that won let out a whoop that could have been heard in Nigeria.

The gentleman sitting next to me was from Nigeria, and he confided, “Mr. Clemens, I do so wish I could stay right here at Lake Tahoe, and take my classes online.”

These 72 exemplary students did not make the news today and they might not make the news tomorrow, but they will spread the goodwill, sound thinking and compassion that travel and education inculcates.

They will be goodwill ambassadors for the rest of their lives wherever they go, and in doing so, will convert many people prone to violence to peace loving citizens.

Yes, this intoxicating mix of nationalities, religions and political sway made me wish for a day when we will inter-marry to the point that all the world’s children will be beautiful in the eyes of everyone, and nobody will be able to label them. I suppose this wish brings new meaning to the old saw, “Love thy neighbor.”

We wish you every success, Fulbright Scholars, wherever life takes you…

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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