No one’s asked me to speak at graduation, but I’ve prepared a message for seniors anyway. The theme? The values you’ve been taught—get real. Nobody practices that stuff anyway.
1) Like those exercises that required you to cooperate, group projects where you practiced team work. Wasted time, given today’s attitude: My opinion is the right one; I refuse to compromise.
2) And admonitions to always tell the truth. “I did not have sex with that woman,” one President said. All around you leaders bend the truth to support their point of view or make their opponents look bad. Documenting sources applies only to students.
3) Remember being punished for name calling? In this political season you hear “Socialist elitist,” “King of Bain.” It’s the adult way.
4) Countries you had to identify on a map. Their languages and cultures. Who cares? America is superior to them all.
5) And what about the scientific method, all those pesky definitions about the difference between theories and hypotheses? Even if pains-taking research shows otherwise, the current ethos lets you believe whatever you want: human behavior doesn’t account for global warming, and evolution is just one of many theories to explain the physical world as we know it.
6) Ever since kindergarten, teachers urged you to be more compassionate. But you’ll find that acceptance of difference, especially if others are homosexuals or immigrants, is so out of fashion.
7) Sharing, too. What’s yours is yours. People living below the poverty level are too lazy to work, undeserving of food stamps or Medicaid. Tax money is better spent on the military.
Yes, graduates, in case you haven’t noticed, the education you’ve received has little relationship to the culture you’re stepping out into. You can, of course, adjust to the real world. Or you can envision a better way, put what you’ve learned in school into practice, and work for change.
In his inauguration speech in 1961 President John F. Kennedy said, “Let the word go forth from this time and place…that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans….” Every generation has the option—no, the obligation—to pick up that torch and put its own imprint on what it means to be an American. May yours bring a return to civility and respect for community.