What Graduates Really Need to Hear


June is graduation month, and as part of the ceremony graduates and their parents and teachers generally have to sit through a graduation address which too often is filled with platitudes, bromides, and thundering insights into the obvious.

Speakers frequently pander to the entitlement that cocoons so many young people today, and congratulate them for an achievement that really is very similar to the participation ribbon they all received for playing soccer in 5th grade. Nobody kept score; everyone got a ribbon and no one could score more than 3 goals
Now I realize that I am going to sound like a cynical Old Fogey here (read previous column) but I think that if we were really honest, this is what we would tell them.

“Dear Graduates. Let me express my condolence to you all as you make your way into a world for which most of you are woefully unprepared. You have been the victims of lies and fraud, all the more distressing because it has been perpetuated by the best meaning people in the world – your parents and teachers.

Your parents have fought your battles – at school and on the playground. They have told you since you were old enough to wear your cute little T-Shirt that read “Future Harvard Grad” that not only were you special, you are unique. You have been told that there is only one goal in life – to be happy, and if you aren’t, then somebody is to blame, but not you, of course,
They ensured that you got to play team sports but made sure that unlike the real world there were no winners or losers, only participants. This mirrors completely their own belief that everyone is a leader – no one is a follower.

No matter how little effort you put into playing on any particular day, you were awesome. You never got benched because you didn’t pull your weight or put forth a good effort.

You were taught that only some jobs are worthwhile – mainly those that pay 6 figures as soon as you leave university, and of course university should be available to all no matter their ability or desire to learn. You got to rate your instructors after every course and assume that you will be able to do the same and rate your boss on a quarterly basis.

School taught you that facts are irrelevant (after all, there is always Wikipedia) but feelings are everything. You were sensitized to be hyperaware of the feelings of everyone at every moment and be sure that you would never say anything that might offend somebody somewhere – unless, of course, that person was a dork, didn’t fit in or didn’t belong to the same social class as you do. It was ok if you didn’t do homework or hand in assignments – teachers were expected to provide make-up assignments at the end of term.

Departmental exams have been severely reduced in their contributing weight toward graduation from high school because they stress you out. Class sizes in university were so large that instructors had to severely cut back on the number of essays they assigned because they couldn’t keep up with the marking. Consequently your spelling is atrochus, grammar is optional, and punctuation soooo last century. Class size didn’t bother you too much, though, because you skipped half of them anyway since they were scheduled at the ungodly hour of 9:00 a.m.

You want to save the planet but drive your car to protest rallies. You believe in free speech and the free exchange of ideas yet pressure your university to ban speakers if you don’t agree with their views. Somebody did your ancestors a grave injustice 200 years ago and you hold today’s descendants responsible for that evil and demand redress – preferably in cold, hard cash. After all, isn’t ait a truism that yesterday’s sins are purified by today’s money?

If things are not going the way you want them to in your life, you have been taught to complain and whine; if you are not happy you have been taught to take a drug; if you do not get what you think you deserve, you have been taught to blame the government.

You have been raised to believe that success is yours by right, that people are awaiting your arrival in the workplace as if it is the second coming. All you have to do is show up, smile and be charming, and wear the latest in fashion.
Let me know how this works out for you!”
Of course we would never actually say anything like this – but perhaps one or two of us think it from time to time.

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