By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
With over 70 colleges and universities in and around Boston, information on commencements is frequent and suggestive. Speculation begins months before the actual commencement season about who will be the most invited celebrity in the honorary degree competition. Then the coverage transfers to what these new honorary degree recipients are saying and what it tells us about the state of the Great Republic and its peoples.
Sadly, no one has recommended my name for consideration; worse, it doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon. No worries.
I am going to tell you without benefit of invitation my remarks; the remarks I would have given. I am going to give my own Commencement Speech which I modestly tell you is a gem. No doubt about it. Now without further ado, here’s the great speech.
Colleagues of the class of 2017, are you beginning to see you’ve been lied to, deceived and mislead all these years, for the great majority of you will never achieve success, the kind of success you have dreamed of all your life; which you were sure your sheepskin delivered. Instead you will have to brag about today for the rest of your life, for it is the final day you will ever have for living the pampered, coddled, exquisite self deceptive student life you have grown far too comfortable with and which ends today.
Yes starting today, the overwhelming majority of you graduates will not have three nutritious meals placed in front of you with never a dish to wash; all that you need to do is open your mouth and chew. You will not have laundry services that present you with clean linens without you doing any more than sleep on them. You will not have instant friends right on the very floor of your dormitory, no less, just like a sitcom; to cheer you, make you laugh, help you out, and make you think that life is a lark, tra la.
You will discover, perhaps you already have, there will be no one to recommend books and ensure you read them. Worse, as you leave this institution today you already have read most of the books you will ever read in your life. This shocking fact noted historian Arthur Schlesinger (1917-2007) told me many years ago.
Your days of reasonably uncomplicated sexuality will now come to an end unless you live in a commune, or have special expertise in juggling more than one partner at a time. You will be forced to make a decision involving spouses and offspring. Thus the uncomplicated delights of promiscuity end here.
You will no longer be able to face the world In T-Shirt and jeans. You must now dress for others, not for yourself. From here on out you will have to bathe regularly, brush your teeth occasionally, comb your hair, and above all not smell from lack of soap which need not be festooned with some designer’s expensive moniker. Coming as you are is no longer an option. Reading these lines, you are perhaps now aware of the Shangri-La which you will be forced out of in just hours; to pass on to your eager successors, who are eagerly awaiting to repeat your mistakes.
Hey man, you will need to be on time for all appointments for there is no surer way of insulting people than coming late and shrugging it off as if it doesn’t matter. I remember the day this was driven home to me for life. It was at Harvard, in Professor Walter Jackson Bates’ (1918-1999) famous class on 18th Century English literature. Right from the start he made it clear that if you could not trouble to be on time, don’t bother to attend.
Of course the students didn’t believe him. After all they were the most important people in the equation. They could do what they wanted including being on time or not, whatever their lordlings deemed suitable.
Bates however was a man of his word. Thus when he saw a young pup creeping tardily into his class, he acted at once hitting the offender with a copy of his masterful volume on John Keats for which he had won one of his two Pulitzer Prices. Because of his precise and graceful aim he nicked the ear of the offender, as Professor Bates boomed out “Don’t bother to come if you are late. Now get out”.
In your future incarnation as a responsible person, people will expect you to do what you are supposed to do when you are supposed to do it. This may well be something no one has properly stressed until now.
Your future will be composed of things you must do completely, and thoroughly and, professionally. You can’t blow them off or ignore them. For example, take your job as a citizen. Most of you have political opinions which are nothing more than slogans derived from a cheap poster. You will become comfortable with mouthing platitudes. Complicated issues, you discover, are far too complicated. Complicated issues after all are just that, complicated. Why bother, then; why study them when all you need is a slogan, a victim who can bring people together, and text messages, which showcase human language in extremis.
You may understand that the nation is a civic entity, where at any given time there is a smorgasbord of essential and compelling issues. You must choose one, it doesn’t much matter which. What matters instead is that you choose a topic larger than you are, in which to invest your time, money, energy, and enthusiasm. You must learn therefore the critical aspects of insuring the Great Republic continues to flourish, and in better shape than now.
One of the most disheartening thing about talking to people who call themselves Millennial is just how trusting they are. If someone posts something on the internet for example, so long as it’s “cool”, they will believe it no matter how unbelievable. Millennials do not want truth. They want lazy habits, sage results in seconds, “Minute Rice” ideas; a society that gives them everything, asking them for nothing.
Thus so long as they are rich enough, they can instantly have what it took their parents a lifetime to get. Everything can arrive at your doorstep, information (never mind if it is accurate or not), food, tickets, a date, a sexual liaison. In short there is a commitment to absolutely nothing and a “no worries” philosophy.
You came to college to learn how to make up your mind, but now it’s constantly updated with more information than you can deal with. You take the easy course and stop investigating in making up your own mind. A recent study showed that people with newspaper subscriptions spent no more than 6 minutes per day reading, claiming they have no time. You know you should read some more, but it never seems enough time. You are left embracing ignorance as your cause.
Many of you will never have an opinion of merit on anything of importance because you will not do the necessary work. Your college doesn’t care. They are worried about continuing the flow of money so they can offer this pap to generations of students yet to come. And all the while the clock is ticking as your college recommends you send in a check or even better set up an estate plan so that Alma Mater gets ever greater amounts of cash. Given this worsening problem, it is necessary to see what you can do to improve matters. Thus here in all humility are the things you can do right now to make sure that you do not become a repository of nothing more than sloth and superficiality.
One, choose the topic you wish to master. Do you want to save polar bears? Then work exclusively to save polar bears. Do not attempt to do it on your own. Tap into the resources that exist and make it a point to know where the resources are and where you best fit in. Do not try to specialize in 5, 10, or 20 different causes. The only way substantial change can occur is by choosing one.
You may think that it is craven or just plain lazy to limit your commitments. The great mistake that budding revolutionaries make is that they use their inability to change everything into an excuse for changing nothing. It is far more important for you graduates to put all your strengths together and seek to make a change in one important area or another. But that takes vision and… work, and you have no time for either.
By now you may be writhing. Just concentrating on one activity may not sound very thrilling to you, but that is because you like to feel important. If you have made a true commitment that comes from the heart and mind you will be willing to give up some or all of the credit in support of others who have made their own selection.
Here, however, where Millennials falter again, you are told (and you believe) that you can be the one who changes the world. But today’s world is far too complicated and doesn’t allow you the luxury of working alone. Instead you must do everything that fosters cooperative effort and forces you to explore ways of increasing the community effort while making it clear that you support the best ways to help in the achievement of the objective.
Two, be honest with yourself. If you have a particular cause, ask yourself if you will be willing to endorse and work for it for years to come. We are at a point in human affairs where great changes can only be effected by great focus and effective organization. Just because you say you want to achieve desirable results doesn’t mean anything.
Three, do your homework. Professor Schlesinger was right. Most college graduates read almost nothing that could achieve for the growth and improvement of the project at hand.
This may all sound depressing to some of you, but let’s simply call it a reality check. At the rate we are “progressively” changing the planet now, Earth as we understand it will soon be a thing of the past. Use yourself as an example. What causes are you supporting? Are you providing them with some meaningful support? What do you do on a regular basis to support this project? Are you engaged in efforts for bringing the cause forward? Are you more than a Sunday soldier or sunshine patriot?
Many years ago there was a famous American comic strip named “Pogo”. It was drawn by Walt Kelly (1913-1973). In the strip the characters blamed everyone for all their problems. The punch line however was stunning. “We have met the enemy and he is us”.
In a few words this master of insight had nailed the problem. We say we want to help. We say the world is a terrible place, a place that yet could be improved by our ministrations. We woke up in the morning determined to be a part of the solution not part of the problem. But here is the worst thing of all: we say we mean what we say, but we do not do what we say. “Do as I say,” my father said “Not as I do”.
You are leaving this great institution today with almost nothing. This lack of preparation highlights the worst thing you will take into the real world. That is arrogance. Arrogance however is one thing you are not entitled to. You have not earned it. Yet here is the real irony. By the time you have earned the right to be arrogant, you will understand that arrogance harms everything you do to help the world. Humility is a far better master.
Leave here today thankful for all the assistance you have garnered, humble before the new world which today you enter. If you do this you will have the best of what is available to you and what will assure you a life of honor, integrity, respect, and most of all, love. These are the things that matter, make them yours for they are the only things worth having and worth living for.
Dr. Jeffrey Lant, Harvard educated, started writing for publication at age 5. Since then, he has published over 1,000 articles and 63 books, and counting.