To The Graduating Class Of 2014
And A Few Comments.
Can you believe it? I haven’t received a single invitation to deliver the commencement speech at an American college or university! Not one! Shocking, ain’t it? A simple oversight, I’m sure. Never one to be put off by, well, being put off, I gathered my notes, staggered out to the sandpile and delivered it anyway, to my usual audience—my dog Sancho and several lizards.
Congratulations! You’ve graduated! And, my condolences: Unless you go to Congress, you’ve just lost the last job you’ll ever have where you can earn major brownie points just for being present. Have you considered the irony of being prepared to go out into the wide-open, tumultuous and demanding real world by people who, for the most part, have never had to make their own way in it; who have spent virtually their entire lives within the sheltered ivied walls of tenured academia? If you don’t see the irony now, you will understand it later.
How many of you had even a single semester of logic? One, in the back there? Philosophy major, huh? Did you know that 50 years ago it was almost impossible to get any degree without studying logic, and now it’s rarely required unless you’re majoring in philosophy? Why is that?
Simple: It’s because logic is difficult. It teaches you how to think, rather than what to think, which is far easier—how to comprehend and analyze rationally, how to determine what is true and what is not. Logic stands in the way of ideological indoctrination, which is arguably the second-highest priority in American education. The only higher priority is getting your money. Also, classes like logic tend to weed out sluggards and morons, and even they pay tuition—or stick others with the bill.
How has that worked? In less than a century we have gone from teaching logic, calculus, Latin and Greek in American high schools to teaching remedial English in our universities. On average, you can’t read and write at the 7th grade level of 40 years ago. Americans now stand 16th out of 33 developed countries in reading, math and problem solving. They stand near the top in degrees received.
Bummer, huh? You’ve been pumped fulla sunshine about being “the best and the brightest,” and your future is all unicorns and rainbows? Well, I’m not Willy Wonka—I don’t sugar-coat crap. I’ll give it to you straight up, with no soda, no ice and tell you two things: First, “happily ever after” is so-o-o-o “once upon a time.” Second, yes, you can have a good life if right now you stop “being educated” and start learning.
If your degree doesn’t apply directly to building things, fixing broken things or keeping things running— whether its natural gas turbines or human organs, diesel-electric engines or logistic delivery systems— you might rethink your plans for a bicycling tour of Europe this summer, and work at getting a certificate in welding. Go for a ticket in pressure vessel welding and right away you’ll be making more money than 90 percent of your classmates while you’re trying to figure out what the heck you ever thought you could do with a Master’s in counter-cultural theatre or feminist theory.
The field of work isn’t important, as long as it falls under building, fixing or maintaining, and you have more than a scrap of university parchment in your bona fides folder. Under-served by education and stuck with a crippled, regulated-to-death economy, you may in fact be America’s lowest-qualified graduates facing the toughest job market in nearly a century. You can snivel and whine about it, or become the toughest, most determined and job-skilled grad in your class. You may have a high IQ, but if you’ve been entertained, flattered and indoctrinated by a dysfunctional system rather than educated, and you can’t deal psychologically with stiff competition for a decent job, well… I don’t know of a single paying position open anywhere for a brilliant sissy with high, but unearned self-esteem.
Multiple Moral Story
When all the other birds in their flock flew south for the winter, this one buncha young birds just didn’t feel like leaving yet. Fall was nice, and it was kinda cool to do anything they wanted with no bossy adult birds around. They dawdled and did aerobatics and lollygagged lazily until grub got short, things got cold and no grownup birds magically appeared to save them. Finally they headed south.
They didn’t get far when they flew into a freezing sleet storm. This one little fella’s wings froze up and he fell into a snow-covered pasture. His buddies, those other birds, just kept flyin’. There he lay unable to move, minutes from death by hypothermia when a cow came along and took a big dump on him. Oh, it was awful! Deep and steaming and stinkin’! He was whinin’ and sniveling and bemoaning his terrible fate when he noticed—what’s this? The heat and insulation of the cow’s dung was warming him up, restoring his life! He felt strength returning to his wings and his heart beat happily!
He poked his head out and found the storm had passed! Thrilled, he loudly trilled a joyous song! A passing cat heard the song, spotted the bird’s colorful topknot, snatched him outta the dungpile, tore him apart and ate him.
There are several morals to this story. Wh
ile it is not always wise to go with the flock, when movement is away from danger and natural consequences, those who freeze in place become victims. Wisdom is knowing when movement is meaningless—and when it’s for survival. Sometimes those older birds are both older and wiser. Others you’ve had good times with may not stop and help when they see you fall—they’ll just save their own feathered little butts. You may have thought they were real friends, but they were just playmates— “fair-weather friends.”
Sometimes having fun can get you killed when you fail to notice approaching storms. Youth and strength are wonderful, but they don’t make you invincible or immortal. Not everyone who dumps on you is your enemy, and not all crappy situations pose any serious threat—they just stink. Not everybody who pulls you outta the dungpile is your friend. And finally, even though you may be deep in poop, if you’re warm and safe, you ought to take a careful, cautious look around before you stick your head out, open your yap and start yodeling.
Here’s something you absolutely will decide: The nation is at a critical tipping point. You—including those who were seniors when you were freshmen, to those who are freshmen today—you will determine the future of this country. By the sheer weight of your numbers, your votes will decide whether every single aspect of life will be micromanaged and dictated in detail by an all-powerful central government, or if you will embrace a state of personal liberty and responsibility, relegating government to the very limited role assigned it by the Constitution. It is likely that by the time today’s freshmen are seniors, that question will be decided for all of us, for an uncertain and indefinite future.
If you opt for liberty and strict limitations on government, you can fundamentally change that with any single future election. If you choose to grant overarching power to government in exchange for unrealistic promises of greater security and a share of loot taken from your more productive peers, only bloody revolution, massive destruction and the loss of countless lives can change that—and that struggle may fail. That’s not hyperbole, it’s fact.
“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent, it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” George Washington said that. If Marx had said it, you would have been taught it. But he would never have uttered such a truth. Choose wisely, graduates.