Their disregard is neither surprising nor entirely unjustified. The war has been long, Afghanistan is far away, and the prospects for peace remain opaque.
Meanwhile, as evidenced by the recent Boston Marathon bombings and the mass shootings in Newtown and Aurora, plenty of threats exist on American soil.
Yet to the extent that media coverage shades public perception, Afghanistan, viewed mostly through the lens of bloodshed, resembles a feral state,
intractable and bereft of hope, its culture in ruins, its people typecast as either militant extremists or saucer-eyed bystanders to the carnage. The
graduation ceremony, while organized in a manner that didn't ignore the country's uncertain security, presented a brighter scenario, one that suggests
there may be cause for tempered optimism.
The American University of Afghanistan, or AUAF, opened in 2006, and its third graduating class consisted of 129 students, including the school's first
batch of master's recipients. They assembled Saturday morning outside the International Center for Afghan Women's Economic Development, a newly christened
building on the university's grounds. School officials tout the $5 million facility, funded with a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, as a future
training hub and business incubator for women entrepreneurs.
Students and their families and friends passed through a pair of checkpoints after stepping inside the walled campus; at one, a bomb-sniffing German
shepherd poked his nose into bags. A handful of plain-clothed, thick-necked security personnel milled among the audience, earpieces giving them away, as a
smattering of uniformed Afghan security officers lingered at a remove.
The safety measures had no apparent effect on the crowd's buoyant mood. As the processional began, the soon-to-be alumni entered beaming, moving toward
their seats as supporters unholstered smart phones to shoot photos. Toddlers slalomed among the tall people and their fluttering graduation gowns. Parents
and grandparents smiled through tears of pride.
The good cheer survived two rain delays, and during one break, I spoke with Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan who retired last summer
after almost 40 years as a diplomat. He had returned to the country to give the commencement address, and he assessed the graduates in the wider context of
their fellow Afghan Millennials.
"This is a generation that the country has never seen--they're tuned in, wired up, switched on," said Crocker, who during his career also served as
ambassador to Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Syria.
"They could not be more different from, certainly, the Taliban, but also their parents' generation. They dislike the warlords" -- the tribal chieftains who
wield outsize influence across the country -- "as much as they dislike the Taliban. They itch for today, and they're going to be running this country."