"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." Thomas Jefferson

Graduation Advice For Troubled Times

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 7
Publish Date: 
Thu, 06/04/2015


It’s not a Mad Max world into which students are graduating, but it’s a Mad, Mad one, fraught with genocidal fanaticism, proliferating scandals, and morally deficient leadership.


As terrorists claimed swaths of Iraq and Syria for the Islamic State, and “death to America”-seeking Iran crept closer to nuclear weapons capability, recent headlines featured indictments of international soccer officials at FIFA and former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. Distrust of civil institutions pervades society.


Meanwhile, the conflicts of interest surrounding Hillary Clinton prompted CNN’s John King to note “you can’t go 20 minutes...without some story…. that gives you a little bit of the creeps.” Will Americans ignore behavior in a presidential candidate that they’d normally deem reprehensible?


The question before graduates is whether they’ll “party on” – accepting a world of imperiled liberties and moral retreat – or whether they’ll Think Again and try to improve it.


Can a generation more informed about Bruce Jenner’s transformation than the Constitution adhere to a founding principle of our democracy, that “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom,” as Benjamin Franklin insisted?


Will iPhone-era Americans raised in the freest, richest and most decent society the world has ever known demand the civic trust, honesty, and accountability on which America’s extraordinariness has depended?


Unfortunately, for over half a century, many institutions charged with cultivating civic virtue – family, faith and education – have failed to transmit the moral values vital to healthy societies. Skyrocketing numbers of single households, a struggling middle class and a crisis in higher education have combined to deprive us of citizens with the requisite moral character for self-government.


Author J.D. Salinger captured education’s problem in his 1961 book “Franny and Zooey:” His heroine grumbles, “You never even hear any hints dropped on a campus that wisdom is supposed to be the goal of knowledge. You hardly ever even hear the word ‘wisdom’ mentioned!”


Professor Allan Bloom of the University of Chicago had a more scholarly take in his 1987 bestseller, “The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Student.”


Bemoaning the demotion of the humanities’ “great books” and academia’s “openness” trend, Bloom argued that because education was no longer a quest for wisdom and “truth,” it was eroding the intellectual foundations of liberty and morality.  After all, 18-22 years olds don’t just self-actualize morally.


“Openness used to be the virtue that permitted us to seek the good by using reason,” Bloom contended, lamenting, “It now means accepting everything and denying reason’s power” to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong, and justice from injustice.


Safe from reflective thought, potential insult or conflicting ideas, and without the ennobling insights and discipline gleaned from studying Aristotle, Shakespeare or Twain, is it surprising that our “best and brightest” converted housing finance into a high-stakes casino, rendered our foreign policy incoherent, and encumbered generations of American taxpayers with more debt than the world has ever known?


Campus horribles reached a zenith with the lauding of Columbia University undergraduate Emma Sulkowicz – aka “Mattress Girl” – who  accused a friend of brutally raping her. Though the University and district attorney cleared him, Sulkowicz continued to tote a mattress -- the scene of the alleged crime -- on her back, garnering media plaudits, an invitation from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to the State of the Union address, and a celebratory shout-out at commencement.


To Sulkowicz’s champions, it doesn’t matter that the truth interfered with their popular narrative about "campus rape culture," or that their irresponsible statements increase the scrutiny given to rape victims and irreparably damage the reputations of the truly innocent. Those things are a trifle compared to their political agenda.


As if addressing Sulkowicz, actor Matthew McConaughey told University of Houston graduates “Life’s not fair. It never was, isn’t now and won’t ever be. Do not fall into the entitled trap of feeling like you’re a victim. You’re not.” McConaughey echoed Franklin’s maxim: “The Constitution only guarantees you the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”


Last year, Admiral William McRaven, who commanded the Osama bin Laden operation, mined his Navy SEAL training to offer University of Texas graduates tips on how to change “ourselves and the world around us.”


In his widely admired address, he counseled, “Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone…You will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when times are toughest, face down bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up,” then subsequent generations will live in a better world.


In truth, our Mad, Mad world isn’t a safe place and our era’s existential and moral challenges aren’t unprecedented. If graduates haven’t yet grappled with mind-bending questions – what’s a good person, how to make ethical judgments, what are civic duties – they will.  As they struggle, may humanity’s wisdom guide them.


Think Again – “The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance,” Franklin said. To recall why, consider Adolf Hitler’s observation: “lucky for governments that people don’t think.”

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Great column! I like your

Great column!

I like your comment about our best and brightest turning housing finance into high-stakes casino.
i once commented to you that lamentably, it is because of this that we need financial regulations.

I think that family is more the fabric of society than it is an institution. and it is at the family level that moral values must be derived. religion as an institution has always been a failure. education without the support of family and a viable, working budget cannot succeed.

Perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of today’s society is when state and city governments slash the
budgets for education in order to compensate for excesses and mismanagement in other programs.

Melanie, you are beginning to sound positively independent..a very good column.

Here are my random

Here are my random thoughts:

This line of yours captures a lot: "Skyrocketing numbers of single households, a struggling middle class and a crisis in higher education have combined to deprive us of citizens with the requisite moral character for self-government."

Columbia University distresses me. I was proud to be a graduate at one time.

Cambridge MA High School graduates boast of their social justice skills. No mention of their knowledge of the Constitution and laws, or any historical perspective to place their social justice notions. No mention of tolerance for conflicting views.

Then there was this story about graduation from a local Boston news station:

During their time at CRLS, graduates represented youth perspectives on committees and councils, organized and facilitated workshops on racial identity and achievement, questioned the city on opportunities for women during Women’s History Month discussions, collected thousands of pounds of food for local pantries, and they walked out of class on Dec. 1, 2014, to take over Harvard Square in protest of racism after the Ferguson grand jury decision.
“We were the first students in over 20 years to have a walkout,” student body President Sydney Fisher said. “Because of us, not just Rindge, but Cambridge as a whole had to reflect on their inner racism. CRLS kicked off their graduation ceremony by welcoming guests and graduates in 14 of the 20 languages spoken by the members of the Class of 2015, including Italian, Arabic, Haitian Creole, Spanish and Portuguese. According to Fisher, her classmates are destined for great things. They will work on global warming, fight gentrification and end genocide of trans women and men and the Black Lives Matter movement, she said.

Finally, you quote Franklin on the need for virtuous people. John Adams made a similar observation. "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." Gets back to who said what, when.

Melanie: I just read your

Melanie: I just read your article on graduation advice and you are so right, especially that we should be concerned. I have been following this trend for several years and it’s driving me nuts. My sisters were at Cal in the 60’s during the "Free Speech" movement (interesting that Cal is now one of the most closed minded campuses) and I saw what those protests did to the campus environment. It’s been kind of downhill since then.

I’m fortunate that I have 2 adult children – one’s a physician and one’s in the mortgage industry. Being in “hard skill” majors, they didn’t take too many liberal arts classes and both are highly successful in their careers with good critical thinking skills and work ethic. Neither needed instructions on diversity, gender sensitivities or “trigger” words, They learned all that at home and in a good school district.

The dumbing down and emphasis on emotions and feelings in our colleges is distressing. It’s starting in our lower grades where politically correct rules from recess activities, bullying and even the food police have made our kids spend too much time thinking about offending someone or worse yet, being offended. Add overly sensitive, helicopter parents and our kids are doomed. By the time they hit the college level, they become part of the “I can’t believe you said that” crowd where mere words carry so much power. Literary masterpieces are parsed, vetted and even banned for fear they may trigger deep seated emotions. Women who consider themselves feminists are acting like porcelain dolls whose feelings can get hurt by some innocuous statement. Worse yet, they are absolutely close minded to hearing contrary opinions and actively work to make sure those opinions are not allowed on campus. I just wonder how they’ll all handle criticisms from their future employers.

Although not a teacher, I work with high school kids in an after school course to make them entrepreneurs. I also listen to their goals and dreams. They’re good kids from good families but I know that when they graduate and leave our safe little cocoon of a city, that they’ll be on those campuses with all sorts of people. I tell each one to be sure to keep the values and morals they learned from their good families and not get into that victim mentality like so many campus students.

Again, great article. I especially appreciate all the quotes. It seems that once again, those in the past had a better grip on our society than the current batch of intellectuals who are teaching our kids. God help us.

Everything you ever wanted to

Everything you ever wanted to know about what’s wrong with the world today with great references and quotations and as always, so well written. (It’s John King, not Jon King)

Advice to grads.... If you

Advice to grads....

If you haven’t spent the last two years of college networking, doing internships or figuring out what industry you want to work in, or you have taken classes that end in the world “studies”, or you don’t know what STEM means, then you are not ready for the real world.

You learned nothing, you wasted your parents money and you now have loans you will never afford to pay back. Move into your parents' basement, work in retail and pray you can handle it. Do anything but join the military. They don’t need you.

Great column! Here's my

Great column! Here's my advice to grads....

If you haven’t spent the last two years of college networking, doing internships or figuring out what industry you want to work in, or you have taken classes that end in the world “studies”, or you don’t know what STEM means, then you are not ready for the real world.

You learned nothing, you wasted your parents money and you now have loans you will never afford to pay pack. Move into your parents basement, work in retail and pray you can handle it. Do anything but join the military. They don’t need you.

Your Think Again column was

Your Think Again column was your usual excellence.

The absence of comments this morning leads me to guess that few know what to say and what to propose as the solution to: moral deficient leadership, moral retreat, failing institutions charged with cultivating civic virtue, higher education failing impoverished souls, and the demotion of "great books".

You referred to Benjamin Franklin, not known as a theologian but one who stated his creed: "Here is my creed: I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe. That He governs it by his providence. That He ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to Him is in doing good to His other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion." (Smyth, Writings of Benjamin Franklin. 10:84)

Your fellow journalist at the Aspen Times, John Colson, this morning proposes that all religion is the fabrication of power hungry men and not to be trusted. We have traveled that "I'm not accountable to God" road for the past 100 years in America and are probably in the process of learning what the ancient Jewish peoples learned, learned again and then learned again.......I'm referring to the Old Testament book of Judges in which the Israeli people ignored God, suffered the consequence, cried out to God, He delivered them, then.......they ignored God, suffered the consequence, cried out to God, He delivered them.

I don't think God's dealing with the Jewish people is any different than how He deals with us. He waits for us to cry out to Him from our position of failed morals. In a micro way, I have a dentist friend who at 53 was enduring a 3rd failing marriage, estrangement from his five children and the foreclosure of a home that was well over his means. At a point in time, he knelt beside his bed, sobbed for 30 minutes in dispair and then cried out to God for direction and help. He is 5 years down the road from that dark day, his marriage is repaired and even good, he has been reconciled with 3 of his five children, he repeatedly declares peace in his life that he never experienced during his first 53 years.

So.....? People who have a relationship with the Creator have a responsibility to declare to others that He can be known.....He has given us a record...one of the "Great Books" that have been condescendingly demoted to the dusty top of the book shelf.

I work with young boys who don't have a dad to instill character, a long slow process, but necessary. On a larger scale our answer is to elect a statesman who is a man/woman of dignity, wisdom and who believes as Benjamin Franklin did that we are accountable to a sovereign God. Along with electing such a person, we need to be crying out to God for deliverance from our mess. No pills, formulas, 30 day chants or seminars will quickly fix us but God miraculously delivered Israel many times over a period of 4,000 years, He is merciful and patient.

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