Graduation speech

Apocalypse Now

62 Comments | Posted May 21, 2007 | 03:35 PM (EST)

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This is the speech I gave at the Haverford College commencement on Sunday May 20.

Thanks so much for inviting me to share this day with you. I'd like to start by saluting the parents here. What I want to know is: After paying tuition for four years, how did you manage to get here today -- by Greyhound?

I'd also like to acknowledge another group of people for their contribution to higher education. It's not just the faculty and administrators who make education possible, you know. Everyone who works on campus plays a role, and I mean the custodians, the maintenance workers, the food service staff, the clerical workers, and the security staff. Let's give them a big round of applause!

Now I want to thank you so much for this honorary degree. Maybe, I'll finally be able to get a decent job!

Of course I'm hoping that all of you graduates will also find decent jobs -- meaning jobs that are fascinating, challenging and compatible with your ideals. I know that won't be easy.

At the moment you accept your diploma today, you will have an average debt of $20,000 and no health insurance. You may be feeling desperate enough to take whatever comes along. Some of you will get caged in cubicles until you're ejected by the next wave of layoffs. Others -- some of the best and brightest of you in fact -- will still be behind a counter in Starbucks or Borders three years down the road.

Parents, if that happens to your child, don't blame him or her, because the sad fact is that the middle class is crumbling under our feet just as these accomplished young people are setting out to find a place in it -- destroyed by layoffs and outsourcings and by severe under-funding for vital fields like science, social work, and education. Benefits are evaporating, and job security is a thing of the past.

That's just one regrettable feature of the world today's graduates are entering. There are others. Most of you are Americans, meaning that you are citizens of a nation that is busy making enemies much faster than it can kill them.

You know, they say it's not so easy to get out of Iraq. Well, I have a plan: Thousands of Iraqis flee their country every day. Just find out how they're getting out and take the same route!

And let me mention the most terrifying feature of the world you are entering: Ever notice how many movies, novels and TV series today are about a post-apocalyptic world? I'm thinking of everything from Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer-prize winning novel The Road to the new movie 28 Weeks Later. Well, there's a reason for that: Our planet may be becoming less and less inhabitable, at least in any civilized way. And the change will be painfully evident within your lifetimes.

One thing that's for sure: Our way of life -- our gas-guzzling, tree-destroying, extinction-producing way of life -- is finished. We have to find a new way of life, and that's going to be your task. But if I have my say in it, it'll be one that involves having more fun, while using a lot less stuff.

Look, I'm really sorry about the mess my generation and your parents' generation is leaving to you: the cruel economy, the bloody quagmire of US foreign and military policy, our threatened habitat. And I just want you to understand that we tried to do better -- maybe not enough of us, maybe not hard enough -- but we tried. And now you have to try, only with one big difference. For us it was matter of idealism, for you it's a matter of survival.

So, my final instruction to the class of '07: Go out there and raise hell!