(Alex K. Fong/Bay Area News Group)

I have some startling news to report. And it's good news.

Sure, we have a sick economy, and our country is still at war. We have ego-bloated politicians tearing into each other so fast, I'm not sure even they know if their accusations are true. Most of us spend far too much time in front of computers, often tossing insults back and forth with people we've never met. On top of that are the demands of a go-go-go society in which there's too much to do and not enough time to do it.

However, the good news is that people still have hope. That's encouraging.

Specifically, I'm talking about college students. Well, maybe not all of them. Technically, I'm still one, and some days I'm about as hopeful as a mushroom cloud.

Back to school

I'm taking a political science course at Diablo Valley College with students who are half my age, or even younger, many of whom probably get tired of my teacher and me sharing private jokes about things that happened in 1982.

The class is fascinating to me -- not just the course material, but the students themselves, at least half of whom seem to come from outside the United States. I get to listen to fresh perspectives from all over the world.

Most of them have something in common that's tremendously endearing for a middle-aged cynic: They're hopeful.

It's not the same kind of hope my 4-year-old possesses in wanting to be a pirate (luckily, Somalia is a long way away). Nor is it the same as my 10-year-old, who's hopeful she can be a pop singer, violin virtuoso and dolphin trainer, all wrapped into one.

This is real-life hope.

Maybe we all have hope at some point. But as we get older and "real life" starts filling our consciousness, it's like we become aging ships that spring a few more leaks each year.

Not yet jaded

That brings me back to my young classmates. The class topic the other night was war: what causes it, whether it's embedded in our biology or a learned experience, and whether we'll ever be free of it.

The conversation was revealing. I think I know a few answers to the first question, have only vague ideas on the second and absolutely believe I know the answer to the third. It's a cynical and rotten answer that I'm not proud of.

However, my younger classmates don't share it. They approach big problems, like war, as if they can be readily solved.

They had definitive answers, some of which haven't changed since I first took classes in the same building more than two decades ago. In fact, our class is held next to a room in which many of my beliefs were forged -- beliefs that largely remain intact, even if they're now rusty with cynicism.

I wrote a column last year poking some good-natured fun at the Occupy Movement, and I got some serious blowback from college students. My first inclination was to tell them that what they're doing is noble, but it won't make much difference in the long run.

Then I thought: Who the hell am I to tell them that?

It's good to hear from people who believe change is possible. During the "how to end war" discussion, I was struck by the realization that my opinions concerning change shouldn't necessarily dissuade me from hoping it happens anyway.

In fact, maybe change would come if more of us middle-aged people spent time with those who aren't supposed to know as much as we do.

Rusty cynicism is overrated, and it's not a bad thing to scrape it away.

Contact Tony Hicks at thicks@bayareanewsgroup.com or at Facebook.com/BayAreaNewsGroup.TonyHicks.