Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Three Graduations, Little Optimism 

In previous posts I mentioned college graduation ceremonies I attended, three in a period of three weeks: a public university in Minneapolis; a small Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, CA; Marquette University in Milwaukee. Also mentioned were the audience response, the preponderance of female graduates (and the dirth of male graduates), and miscellaneous items. This post will review the speakers.

The first speaker, Ms. Tene' Wells worked for 20 years at Honeywell and Medtronic, major employers in the Twin Cities in MN. Currently she is president of Women Venture, a nonprofit women's economic development agency in St. Paul. Her address focused on the continued discrimination against women and people of color.

The second speaker, Ms. Audra Strickland, an Assembly woman from the 37th District in CA was the best of the three. She reviewed the story of the movie "Amazing Grace" and its hero, William Wilberforce, the man who worked 18 years to get the British government to stop the British slave trade. The Brits did and eventually blockaded all African ports effectively stopping all African slave trade, period. Ms. Strickland focused on goals and an awareness that if you believe in something, though it may take time, it can be achieved.

At Marquette, the main speaker was the clever and witty, recently retired writer from Sports Illustrated, Steve Rushin. His talk was entertaining but he had to include the college story of dropping Mexican food in a rain puddle, picking it up, returning to his room and drying his burito on the radiator. Though minor, he also had to poke fun at President Bush. He did say that his father told him once he graduated (from Marquette) the "bank of Dad" was closed. He was enjoyable but what was the message?

Nowhere in any of these talks were students reminded of the opportunities in the US, the freedom to choose what one can do, to think and say various opinions without fear of being thrown in jail and tortured. Have we dumbed down our curriculum, eliminated so much teaching of our history that we no longer have the perspective of how good things are? Except for Ms. Strickland, most of the speakers focused on themselves or what is wrong instead of the incredible advantages and responsibilities that still exist here and not anywhere else.

There will always be jerks, people who discriminate, lie, cheat, steal, avoid reality and look for the negative. But wouldn't it be nice if universities actually taught pride in what we have accomplished as a nation, what benefits we have rather than focusing solely on our warts? It is unlikely the graduation speakers have any clue as to how bad things are in so many places on the planet. And the students, why should they be optimistic when all they hear is what is wrong? The other side is that there also will always be people who work honestly, have ideas and create a better world for so many.

If we continue to emphasize only what is wrong, things won't change and people will get stuck where they are. People need dreams, encouragement, a belief that life can and does get better. Therefore, we need to recall, repeat, and emphasize what a great nation we are. Only then, can we help others achieve the freedoms and opportunities we take for granted.