’Tis the season of commencement speeches, well convocations if you’re Canadian, and days of hoary platitudes are upon us. Will you be true to yourself and “live your life with integrity” (Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane, 2009)? “Have the courage to follow your heart” (Steve Jobs, 2005)? Do you realize that the most important thing is to “surround yourself by people who cherish you” (Oprah forever) and that we are now in a time of great technological advancement—as we have been since some grad discovered fire and then the wheel and the printing press.
Look, I know it’s easy to mock this stuff and I do realize that commencement speeches are not for students but parents who having paid a small fortune for offspring to study collective bargaining (Queen’s) need a wash of congratulation. Daughter Ashley has got her degree in conflict resolution which may help with any kids she has but frankly if it’s the UN she wants, a course in compensation of Third World public officials or mercenary studies would be more helpful.
My all-time favourite wasn’t, strictly speaking, a commencement address but Malcolm Muggeridge’s 1968 sermon to the University of Edinburgh’s students after he was elected rector. He longed to say something enlightening. But he had, as Ellen would understand, his integrity. Students, he said, you “are the ultimate beneficiaries under our welfare system . . . elite who will happily and audaciously carry the torch of progress into the glorious future.” There is nothing, he told them, that they could do in the spirit of rebellion or rejection of our run-down values with which he would not have some sympathy or some understanding.
“Yet how infinitely sad; how, in a macabre sort of way, funny,” he continued, “that the form their insubordination takes should be a demand for pot and [birth control] pills . . . we await the works of art, the high-spirited venturing into new fields of perception and understanding and what do we get—the resort of any old slobbering debauchee the world over—dope and bed . . . I have therefore asked the principal to accept my resignation. So dear Edinburgh students this is likely to be the last time I address you and this is what I want to say—and I really don’t care whether it means anything to you or not . . . whatever life is or is not about, it is not to be expressed in terms of drug stupefaction and casual sexual relations. However else we venture into the unknown it is not, I assure you, on the plastic wings of Playboy or psychedelic fancies.”
Great stuff. Today’s plastic wings are LGBT issues, gender equality and “social justice.” I can’t see how anything apart from the slight awkwardness some people feel when a transgendered person uses a washroom that appears not to be aligned with his/her appearance, can be a matter of the slightest import. As for gender equality—give us a break. We’ve been doing nothing but equalizing genders for so long that no one knows which sex of the many now in existence should pick up the restaurant cheque or hit their head on the glass ceiling.
Social justice usually means bigotry and intolerance towards a stew of whites/Jews/Israelis/or First World achievers and toleration by university presidents, chancellors and professors of any aggressive views or activity, no matter how false or hateful, by their pet designated minorities.
The great American commencement address of 2013 needs a speaker who can rise to history as did FDR in his riveting 1940 “Stab in the back” speech at the University of Virginia or a person who can think and write at the level of Malcolm Muggeridge. We are poised on the edge of nuclear proliferation among failed and rogue states and lack courageous leaders (apart from Canada’s own Stephen Harper). No current Western leader could pass as a mensch no matter how tight the trousers or pant suit. Best, I suppose, to stick to the banal.
Myself, I’d like a wave of Muggeridge sock-it-to-them. President Obama (Ohio State, May 5, Morehouse, May 19) could confess that his abdication of leadership in foreign affairs has led him to decide resignation is his only moral course. Bill Clinton (Howard, May 11) might acknowledge his jealousy and suffering knowing that after Lyndon Johnson he is the sole Democratic president to miss out on a Nobel prize (and that’s not counting VP Al Gore).
Were I giving a commencement address, I’d tell those upturned faces to empty their minds of every idea imbibed in the rotten world of academia. Re-examine every dearly held assumption. Be sure to take no further studies in journalism or business and do not let any prospective employer know you have ever studied such things. There are, according to dean Roger Martin of the Rotman School of Management, 440,000 graduates of American business schools a year. Most, in my experience, good for nothing but the arid fields of management. I am unfamiliar with those journalism school graduates who are great but I know a lot of bad ones that cannot think beyond received wisdom.
Doctors need medical degrees, engineers and programmers need engineering degrees—especially brilliant ones like Jeff Bezos—and people who want to enrich their minds may indulge in liberal arts (so long as they stay away from sociology—a spawning ground for left-wing gnats). And one final thing. Take a leaf from a writer who did not go to college either, William Shakespeare, and “first . . . kill all the lawyers.” Metaphorically true in the Elizabethan era when written and exponentially true ever since. Good luck class of 2013.
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