Saturday, May 4, 2013


One of the joys of academia is getting to watch our students graduate. One of the horrors of academia is having to sit through commencement speeches. So as a public service, we'd like to use the graduation season to offer some words of advice... to commencement speakers. Above all, there are two words you should avoid at all costs:

"Real world."

Keep in mind that when you went to college, back in the 1960s or '70s, the world was a different place. Not to minimize the ever-present threat of nuclear apocalypse, but you probably looked forward to a nice steady job, with a pension, which you'd have for as long as you wanted, and through which you could support a family of four. That world is gone, and our students know that all too well. They already live in what you call the "real world."

Our graduates are veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our graduates are single parents who've raised kids and still graduated with honors. Our graduates have held down jobs their whole undergraduate careers because their families can't survive without the income. Our graduates know all about the real world. They are smart, they work hard, and they deserve better than cliches like "the real world."

Instead, challenge your listeners. Demand that they yoke their talents and work ethic to the cause of social justice. Provoke them to use their critical thinking skills to find new solutions to vexing social problems. Foment the change that has eluded your generation. Inspire them to public service.

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