A note to the graduating class of 2009
News shows this past week broadcast excerpts of speeches given by well-known individuals at college commencement ceremonies. The wisdom and insight of Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Laura Bush, Robert Gates, Colin Powell, Ellen DeGeneres, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and others reigned down upon graduates as they are about to embark on life as adults. Below are some thoughts and observations that these esteemed speakers may not have noted in their addresses.
Graduates who have followed the news on CNN, MSNBC, FOX or Comedy Central have seen a very clear choice as to how to conduct one’s life. Regardless of whether one agrees with the policies of President Obama his embrace of civility and nobility is in marked contrast to the narrow sewer politics of Limbaugh, Gingrich and Cheney. Obama’s adherence to veracity is in marked contrast to the lies and twisted logic of these icons of failed leadership under the banner of conservatism. The college graduates of 2009 may have the clearest examples in American history of how poor leadership can weaken America, how greed on steroids can destroy an economy and how ignoring the environment and the health of its citizens can put our society and communities at great risk. Everyone we are exposed to in life is our teacher. Some people show us to what to do and some show us what not to do. Rarely have such choices for graduates been in sharper focus.
For decades the message to graduates has consistently been to make the world a better place as one seeks their place to pursue dreams, hopes and aspirations. Today’s graduates will begin careers and soon start families under the umbrella of a political system that is flawed – a system that in recent years has yielded more impediments than opportunities for individuals to participate in the American dream. It is a system where our elected officials must raise large sums of money to fund political campaigns that ensure re-election. Elected officials are lured into serving the needs of the special interests that provide campaign and other funds and the officials must devote an inordinate amount of time to fundraising, which reduces the time available to deal with issues important to citizens. This will only change with the public financing of elections because self-policing by elected officials is an American pipe dream. For the most part, today’s elected officials are owned by corporate interests of energy, finance and banking, pharmaceutical and healthcare corporations. The sellout led to de-regulation of financial markets, a reduction in product safety, a reduction in competition and blockage of sound energy policies that would have reduced dependence on foreign oil and more responsibly protected the environment.
Today’s graduates will have to bide their time until there is once again a viable two-party political system in America. The current version of the Republican Party (Conservatism) became the voice of corporate interests, the religious-right and the Neocons, also known as the warmongers. The GOP was embarrassed in the elections of 2006 and 2008. As the current version of conservative politics continues to lose support in almost every demographic, 2010 will likely be even more devastating to the Republican Party. Following repeated defeats I expect the GOP will seek candidates more moderate, more inclusive and more reflective of a society rejecting the narrow issues of abortion and gay marriage, more demanding that elected representatives actually represent their interests which include fair wages, intelligent broad-based healthcare, sound energy policy, verifiable voting apparatus, renewal of our infrastructure, reliable mass transit and improvements in education.
We can only trust that this year’s graduates will reject the lies that the conservative/GOP cabal continue to spew. Examples include: gay marriage will destroy traditional marriage and lead to pedophilia and bestiality; the U.S. will be endangered if prisoners at Guantanamo were housed in federal high security prisons on American soil; Obama is a Fascist and his policies will result in a socialist state; oversight of capitalism will result in a socialist state; evolution is not valid; the world was created a) 3000 years ago, b) 5000 years ago, c) 15000 years ago; torture is justifiable in our society and the use of torture made Americans safer; Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to America.
Finally, this note to graduates should not be construed as an endorsement of the Democratic Party. Over the past decade its record is not seen as horrendous only because it is compared to the Republican Party. Democrats are also subject to the influence of special interests and their lobbyists, they participated in the reigning in of regulation and reduction of oversight and they were silent and impotent in opposing the invasion of Iraq and subsequent funding of the occupation. Both political parties governed out of fear and a cynicism in the American political system and the American people. You are the next generation and you can do better.
“Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Robert Louis Stevenson