Image from Univ. of Rochester
Dear Graduates of 2018,
Good afternoon! I’m addressing all of you, everyone that has graduated from a program of studies this year. High school graduates, college graduates, those of you receiving degrees of mastery, or professional credentials, anyone who has successfully completed a curriculum that offers you preparation for the life ahead of you, I am talking to you.
We need you.
All of us. The world. Your parents. Your siblings. Your future children (should you opt to have any). The woman living in a 4th story walk-up in San Francisco. The elderly man living in a ranch house outside Mobile. The child playing in a park in Bogota. The teenager riding his bike in the streets of Bamako. We need you.
We need you to take all of the things you learned in books and lectures and discussions and put them to practical use. We need you to sift through all of the material that has been presented to you by your parents, teachers, the experts and scholars that have had your ear for years and figure out what is true. We need you to then push for that truth in the world. Please. We don’t have time to waste.
To the high school graduates: we need you to seriously consider the kind of life you want to lead. I’m not talking about how much money you could stand to make, but the impact you could have in the spaces you inhabit now and want to explore in the next few years. What is it you would change? Why? How can you best go about evincing that change? If you plan to move on in your formal education, we need you to disregard the Forbes, the US News and World Reports, the some-guy-who- purports- to know-these-things blog about what schools/degrees/majors will guarantee employment. You will most likely work your entire adult life. Don’t conscript yourself to the highest entry-level salary. Instead, refuse to declare a major, work as a volunteer doing something that you love, take more than the prescribed credits, intern at a company that intrigues you, shadow someone for a week who works in the field that you wanted to be in when you grow up, then decide what you most want to study. Aunt Marge may be a tort lawyer, and Cousin Bart may be an orthopedic surgeon, but you need to find your own path. Not because you are following your bliss, whatever that means, but because if you love what you do, you will fight like hell for its integrity, stock options or no. We need you to do that.
If you don’t continue on to college and you decide instead to serve your country or community, don’t do it because you worship a piece of cloth, do it because you want to defend what matters most, the people who make this country what it is. Remember that those people come in all shades, believe in different things, and want to live their lives in the manner they see fit, just as you do. We need you to protect ALL of us.
Those of you who opt for a vocation, please strive to do well and insist that others do well around you. Safety is important; no one is expendable, especially not in favor of the bottom line. Demand you be paid a living wage, and that you have access to quality health care. Understand your value. We need you to speak your truth to power.
To those of you that have earned degrees, look to see where you are most needed. We need English lovers in the classrooms, to write sincere speeches, for sincere people who make sincere policy, to work hard within the Fourth Estate to make sure everyone knows how this person’s election here, this storm there, and this tragedy in our front yard affects us. We need those who have studied art to preserve, protect, and advance the varied expressions of what makes us human. We need engineers to solve our collective problems, we need historians to record what happens to us and how what has already happened exerts its influence on us now. We need foresters to protect our resources. We need nurses to nurture us, we need financiers to handle the economy holistically, we need designers to reflect who we are and who we can yet be as a people. We need you to fight against those that would try to monetize and exploit your area of interest.
To those of you who are now experts in your field, we need you to change the world. We need you to cure the diseases that plague us, we need you to protect the species of flora and fauna that are dying out. We need you to translate the universe for us. We need you to dismantle the institutions that are destroying our collective: racism, sexism, classicism, fascism, and every other ism that seeks to limit our lives. We need you to take pride in your edification, to use what you have learned to raise all of us up so that we can be a better society.
We need you to hurry; you are the first generation that has lived under the practical application of egalitarianism. You know that leadership does not mean white cis male default. You have had black doctors, Asian teachers, LGTBQ mentors, and a myriad of friends and neighbors from all walks of life who have been able to live their best lives. Your mothers have worked, your fathers have been your caregivers, you have inhabited the worlds of superheroes of all hues, your life’s soundtrack is composed by musicians from all around the globe, you have all the mysteries of existence literally in the palm of your hand. We need you to save us from ourselves. Class of 2018, we need you.