Hamilton College's plan to institute a diversity requirement for all students in fall 2017 is a great idea.

An even better idea would be to start teaching about diversity in high schools - even at elementary levels. The earlier kids learn about our differences, the sooner they'll understand how much we all have in common.

Our world is becoming increasingly diverse. But that diversity is really nothing new. It existed here the moment newcomers started settling our shores - even before that if we consider various Native American tribes - but it's only in recent years that we've actually made an attempt to truly embrace it.

And rightly we should.

Our region has long been a patchwork of ethnicity and culture - from the Welsh settling in the hills of Remsen and Steuben to the Poles and Italians in West Utica and East Utica. Sprinkled into the mix were Irish, Germans, Lebanese, African Americans and so many more, creating a potpourri of people - a microcosm of the larger world.

Today, diversity has been redefined, adding to the cultural stew differences in gender, religion, sexuality, age, class and assorted abilities and/or disabilities. Hamilton's plan is for each department to design a course or combination of courses that examine “structural and institutional hierarchies based on one or more of the social categories."

Hamilton isn't the only local college with a diversity requirement. John Johnsen, Utica College provost and vice president for academic affairs, said UC instituted such a requirement several decades ago. It requires students to take at least one course that deals largely with issues related to diversity, he said.

“They all happen to be social science courses, so typically they’re history, anthropology, sociology," Johnsen said. "We think it’s an essential part of their learning, of being a citizen of the country in our world.”

So true, especially as our nation continues to become more inclusive on so many fronts. Learning to embrace diversity even earlier - prior to college - could be invaluable. Schools like Utica's Thomas R. Proctor, where 43 languages are spoken in what has become a cultural melting pot, might have an advantage.  But other districts can work to create and promote the diversity, too, in their own situations. And there is diversity. 

The lesson we must take from this isn't really tough to grasp: Whether we're Muslim or Christian, black or white, deaf or blind, gay or straight, use a wheelchair or a cane, are a teenager or an octogenarian ... we all have something to contribute. We can teach others; we can learn from others.

And the sooner we begin to understand that, the better off our community - and our world - will be.