With all the yap on the airwaves about commencement addresses, I thought it was time to tackle one of these speechified manifestos myself. So bear with me.
Not that conservatives usually get to speak at such an event. You know the numbers. If so, maybe it should go something like this. First, context is important: remember that they don’t really care what you say, it’s their day. But you the speaker must slice through those biases, however you can, without tempering your message. Enough as been said already on lofty “finer points” of ed-U-K-shun, so stuff that in the sock drawer. It isn’t your mom and pop’s type education we’re talking about now. Onward.
Hit a couple high points, and hit a few low ones, then sum it up as the world is your oyster and make lemonade out of lemons. Well, scratch that outline and just go for it.
I’d like to talk to you on this special day, and thank you for inviting me. Though it wasn’t so much an invitation as a booking arrangement. I just happened to be the one available.
While the fleeting idea of grand accomplishment is still thick in the air, I would like to address that. But it requires a little history or background. I’m not going to explain details of events, if you don’t know what they are you can Google it as I talk. I didn’t get paid a professor’s salary to come here and I don’t have tenure. So….
You may have the feeling right now that you have achieved a certain level, or reached some nirvana status. Whether or not that is on your way to higher aspirations or it is the height of your achievement is all open for debate.
Knowledge is power, education is achievement, and all that stuff hangs like a cloud over campuses like this. Academic accomplishment is still something to be proud of. (enjoy it while you can)
However, what I hope to do is remind you of just a few events. Of course you don’t remember but have you heard of Enron? Look it up if not. They were not bottom feeders, pardon the pun. Those involved in the scandal were educated, smart, accomplished people. There was the savings and loan(S & L) scandal. Bankers, educated, and smart people.
How about Nixon’s administration? You know all those people in the Watergate scandal – you don’t have to know their names — who were indicted or part of it were educated, intelligent people, lawyers and advisers. You might remember some of the Clintons’ scandals. Right, they don’t use that word scandal anymore because it’s a pejorative. That aside, remember those incidents called right-wing conspiracies that were always hovering around the Clintons and the White House? Let’s call them controversies just to be kind. Whatever you heard, there were some smart people in them. You don’t have to know all the details — which would require a four year course — to know they had intelligent and educated people in their circle.
You probably know about some media personalities in mainstream media. They are educated people, too, with degrees and such. Not without flaw, error or controversy.
That collective sampling of history sort of tells us something, doesn’t it? They can all be educated, very intelligent people but they make mistakes too. Sure, they aren’t perfect and none of us are. The lesson of all those things is simple.
So if you thought education was a status of achievement that would prevent you from screwing up, you are mistaken. If you thought education was your exemption ticket from scandal or problems, you were wrong. If you thought your education would diminish the chances of screwing up or even failing, you would be wrong.
Actually, your chances of finding yourself in a bad situation may have gone up with that new degree. It certainly will not save you from trouble. I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that you are not immune because of your education or intelligence.
Some very intelligent and educated people created some pretty huge problems. Their education did not save them from corruption or scandal, and probably wouldn’t save you. Many good, successful people were also intelligent and educated.
If you studied anything on ethics, you know there are choices you will be asked to make. Sometimes it might be either or; sometimes it might be picking both at the same time; you may be forced to choose. You might have to decide if you really want that abortion you were told was your “right”? You might have to decide if that building the crowd broke all the windows in should be looted? You might have to decide whether or not you will be a witness to that assault or robbery you just saw? You may have to decide on a given day if you are going to be a spectator or intervene on behalf of a victim in the making? You might have to decide if what your boss told you to do is ethical? You might decide if money or gifts are really bribes? Or not; but you will have to make some choices.
And you will have to decide if you are going to vote, then whom you vote for? No choice is still a choice. You will have to determine if those in power really do speak for you or they are taking people’s votes for granted. You may be called on, at some point, to make a decision between the profitable thing and the right thing to do? You may also have to decide when enough is really enough? I nor anyone else can tell you what choices to make.
We can tell you or encourage you to make the right one but the decision is yours. So when you make the right choice a bell doesn’t go off, or a buzzer doesn’t sound when you make the wrong one. Sometimes you may not even know if it was the right decision, only that you made one. Sometime you might not be aware you made a choice. Or sometime you may think you really have no choice.
No one can give you the answers; we can’t even tell you the questions. We can tell you to make the right decision. Then own that decision. Don’t blame someone else, or justify it by some excuse. Just admit it was yours to make and live with your decision. You made a choice when you came here. Now live with that choice.
Why such concern about feeling a nirvana or sense of immunity to problems? Unchecked it can lead one right into false confidence. That concern is validated for a reason.
You have probably been warned about greed or heard it blamed as an enemy of society and social justice. CS Lewis in The Great Sin describes the subject this way:
“What is it that makes a man with 10,000 pounds a year anxious to get 20,000 a year? It is not the greed for more pleasure. 10,000 pounds will give all the luxuries that any man can really enjoy. It is Pride – the wish to be richer than some other rich man, and (still more) the wish for power.
For, of course, power is what Pride really enjoys: there is nothing makes a man feel so superior to others as being able to move them about like toy soldiers. Pride is competitive by its very nature: that is why it goes on and on. If I am a proud man, then, as long as there is one man in the whole world more powerful, or richer, or cleverer than I, he is my rival and my enemy.”
Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goeth before destruction: and the spirit is lifted up before a fall.”
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