Sunday, May 22, 2005


has come and gone. Another beautiful day on the Ellipse between the Washington Monument and the White House. Not a bad place for a Commencement ceremony all things considered.

This year's festivities were filled with much of the usual. Thank yous to retiring professors. Awards to the best and brightest students, staff, faculty, and alumni. The obligatory cheesy visit of our university's namesake accompanied by his wife. Pres. Trachtenberg has done all this stuff so often he can (and probably does) do it in his sleep. Though he did sport a different sort of headgear today: a Washington Nationals baseball cap.

The main speaker was Andy Rooney. He was accompanied and introduced by his graduating granddaughter (good job Alexis!). Rooney was, if I might say, his usual witty but pessimistic self.
If you're smart at all you should be nervous about facing the world you're entering. If you're not nervous you're not very smart, because there's plenty to be nervous about. First, you're going to have to find a job, then you're going to have to learn how to do it. I don't know whether you're aware of this or not. On a big day like this, graduating, you probably think you've got everything. But it's very likely that nothing you learned in college is going to help at your job.
Capitalism has gone berserk. It isn't working. There are too many rich people and too many poor people. You don't have to be a communist to think that.

Corporations whose boards of directors used to meet to discuss ways to improve their product now meet to talk about ways to make it cheaper. They also meet to decide how many workers to fire so they can vote themselves million dollar bonuses.

The key word in big business today is "takeover." It means taking over a company built on someone else's brains and labor for another's profit. No product ever got better when a big company took over a smaller one.
Civilizations have ended before, you know. It's not impossible. It seems so to us, but it is not impossible, and I worry about the future of the world. I worry about my grandchild and my grandchildren's grandchildren.
You get the idea.

Golly! That is dire and depressing!
Andy needs to up his meds...

I don't think he's a good person at all. Capitalism is the only economic system that works. Not all "rich" people are evil. Not all "poor" people are needy...

A long time ago I was enlightened partially: a person is rich if they have enough to share.

Any attempt to measure a person's happiness by merely counting their material goods is absurdly shallow and encouraging people to define their success by comparing themselves to others is just a shortcut to dissatisfaction!

Yesterday Bill Gates made more money than I will in my whole life.

The average worker in Cambodia makes about $50/year...

An immigrant from Nigeria came to this country just six years ago--with less than $100--and by the application of "elbow grease" created an auto-repair business with multiple locations that employs over 100 people...

Surely American citizens with University degrees can do as much if they want?
First of all, thanks, Professor Larsen. Second, I think the texas blogger missed the point entirely. The message my grandfather was trying to convey is that we need more useful people in society, i.e. mechanics, teachers, small business owners, etc. He wasn't being pessimistic, he was telling the situation as he saw it. And instead of giving a dull speech about the challenges ahead and integrity (how bad was the student speaker? it was a toe-curler) he was honest and straightforward. I thought it was great.
Alexis, I appreciate that you in particular might know your grandfather's nuances.

However, the words quoted by Professor Larsen do not come across as either positive, forward-looking, or particularly Pro-American.

Taken together with the TV editorials he delivered, your grandfather's commencement speech shows a rather sad and intellectually dishonest view of America.

There are millions of unfilled opportunities out there for people who are willing to work. If your family cannot see that, you have my sympathy.

But don't try to mislead others with false piety or some nonsense about the evils of capitalism...

If one waits for someone to "give" you a job, they will be disappointed. But if an American university graduate cannot do as well as a dirt-poor immigrant with an eighth-grade education, what does that say about that person, their family, and the university?
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