And commencements, end of the school year, school career rituals have so many other problems than who is or isn’t tapped to speak.
Just when you think we as a country might be able to get through a national event, a nice, joyous occasion on a national scale with minimal, it’s too much to hope for no, controversy the embarrassments start crawling, in a slow trickle, out of the woodwork to showcase the worst of us. Graduation ceremonies grinded to a halt for the dumbest of reasons initiated by adults who should know better, not ditzy, entitled brats blocked from getting their way, ceremonies denied students displaying the very traits we say we admire, reward, conveniently tied to either ‘the rules’ contrived so those charged with administrating don’t have to make the big D—a decision, exercise the other D—discretion, or the hot button issues of the year; remember the kid who couldn’t even voluntarily reveal his sexuality as the last 15 seconds of a several minutes valedictorian speech, or the kid barred from wearing his tribal eagle feather on his graduation cap after coming from far behind to graduate with his class, crass explanations of graduation dress codes were replaced with exposed racist test questions in one school currently wrapping up the year, salacious editing of yearbook photos for modesty has been replaced with kicking people out of ceremonies for facial hair i.e. male beards, goatees, the kid who passed out on a hot school bus where the driver refused to let students open the windows for fear of emergency alarms exemplifies why year round school remains a bad idea. Top other ones in 2016 causing people to go some variation on berserk, transgender people who dared use the bathroom corresponding with their identity not their birth sex assignment, Muslims walking down the street, getting on airplanes, and to older peoples’ chagrin, graduating high school while wearing their traditional headscarf. And now a supposed exposé espousing our addiction to greed and shallow celebrity culture ensconced in how much we’ll pay famous commencement speakers to grace graduations while keeping most professors part time and below the poverty line. Sure we get many millennials and younger people, relatively new, first time voters comprising high school/college graduates are feeling both the Bern, movement started by Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and the burn of their student loan debt, the looming prospect of all the money it will take to enter then compete college, but is this really the place to put, channel their outrage, at ‘bad’ commencement speakers and their pay? Completely contrary to what I originally said about high school English teacher turned graduation speaker David McCullough Jr., what I expounded on 2 years later after his tough love, you’re not special speech was ill-received and thus turned into a book by the author in an attempt to explain himself, take negative heat off himself for virtually ruining a graduation ceremony and causing a less than desirable message to go global; the difference here has to be context. There is no indication Mr. McCullough was paid anything extra to give his lackluster speech, never mind exorbitant; I remember my high school writhing elective teacher who was also paid to supervise after school detention. Yeah for a measly 35 cents or $1.35 a day, I can’t remember exactly which one; needless to say when she saw that, she stopped supervising after school detention. Probably something similar happened with McCullough, if he wasn’t just tapped to give his speech because everyone on staff knew it would be unconventional, was a vehicle to say all the things they were already thinking. His book financially entirely separate from the speech and was called out for the ego stunt it was, if only by me and my work. Colleges function distinctly differently, one big factor being presage and expectation; you’ll notice these discussions are centered around top universities, well known schools if not exclusively the Ivy League, not Podunk wherever community college in a town most have never heard of. Yes some of the listed stand outs where public colleges in places like Oklahoma, Texas paying thousands of dollars for a cultural status symbol totally unrelated to the school and the majors it offers, to deliver a commencement address which seems gratuitous when paying adjunct professors, nearly every professor since the steady abolition of tenure, as they said, peanuts to open the newest minds. But defenders of the practice, the ambivalent are right, big names garner donations and publicity attracting parent dollars, students’ student loan dollars to their school and is one of the far less unscrupulous methods used to do so. By their logic, the logic that indicates spending money on anything that could be interpreted as frivolous is sacrilege to the student collegiate experience, ironically even when they are the ones asking for it, (but more on that later) it was wrong for NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts to invite Robert De Niro to do a commencement address to film students, or was it that he dropped the f-bomb to tell students how profoundly screwed they were thanks to their career choice; however, he did it in the tough love style so he gets a pass, his fee gets a pass? Just one of the many contradictions also present in the Salon.com article decrying celebrity commencement speakers and their fees.
But that isn’t where all, or some, of your tuition hikes, 4 years of incurred debt, are going, what your student loan dollars are buying; in fact it’s hard to tell where exactly that money, in its massive amounts, is going. Transparency as big an issue as price tag itself; boated administrative hierarchies and sports programs centered singularly around basketball and football while leaving all other sports, popular, traditional ones out in the cold seem to be the identifiable culprits. And, for public colleges, who rely significantly on government funds to operate, the recession still remains a key factor in rising tuition prices; true most have recovered from the recession proper, but it’s impact has lessened state dollars available to spend on operating costs, maintenance, upgrades to ever evolving technology. Secondly we know the national government has been gutting all levels of education for years thanks largely to republicans; not at all helped by the perception kids go to college to drink copious amounts of alcohol, stay perpetually high, have endless, promiscuous sex stumbling out of an expensive 4 year education holding degrees in Peruvian bongo drums and lesbian dance theory; forget it’s actually the furthest from reality as you could possibly get. Lining up perfectly alongside Bill Maher’s, funny but not funny, speech to the projected class of 2041 at the University of California/Goldman Sacs dismissing salient details like why any of the Kardashians would consent to run for president, how Kanye West would ever get elected by an eligible voting populous over age 10, or what kind of president he might make despite the public persona and when Mathew McCaughey ever expressed any legal career aspirations, never mind chief justice. The feeling transcending conservative politicians, conservative minded citizens permeating everything and everyone else that over privileged, undeservingly entitled mindset kids are paying gargantuan amounts of money to be educated in an unemployable nothing; utterly ignored, changing employment trends in the course of 4 years needed to earn a degree sans absolute burnout, duel majors still strived for, achieved by ambitious students, colleges forced behind the times by an employment system that abjectly refuses to keep them up to date on what they need. Businesses who remain tight lipped about how to obtain high demand jobs, have all but abolished the internship, apprenticeship, people they herald who can’t even say this is a job for which you get paid money, here is how and where you train to be an air traffic controller, building or food inspector; then have the audacity to wonder why current enrollees/outgoing graduates go for ‘exotic’ degrees, turning out in debt ‘educated idiots’ possessing ‘no life skills.’ Recession doubtlessly impacting private institutions too, when big donors and prominent families either lost everything or, nervous about their money, financial future despite their holdings, gave less particularly to schools where their children no longer attend, are too young to attend yet. Result money needed to achieve a functioning learning institution in the modern era gets, with no shortage of pocket lining by fat cat administrative staff, we know, passed on to the student body. That being said what they’re paying commencement speakers, even lumping in all the student activities, celebrities and events used to keep students there and spending their financial aid dollars, their parents’ cash, educated guess comes out to a single year’s tuition for an entire small, lone, individual classroom of students. Ah, another uncomfortable truth, the author seems to have suddenly woken up yesterday realizing student activities budgets, predictably derived from some portion of your tuition, go to all those fun events that make college campuses not only fountains of learning but one of the coolest places you’ll ever be; how Snooki got paid 32,000 for an event, comedians made it into a 2015 Atlantic article where comedy circuit professionals and the rest of the American intelligentsia lamented college students had gotten so sensitive comics had to clean up their act if they wanted the posh gig of doing the college rounds. Out, rape, race, gender and anything looking remotely like homophobia prompting Chris Rock, Lewis C. K. and others to swear off the arena; aww shucks, “three minutes on giving his girlfriend herpes and banging his grandma” wasn’t funny and you were told so. Except, for every student who objects to a guest, at least one will support them; still considering all the potential, possible places college students, debt garnering, tuition money could be going rather than demanding an itemized graph, written breakdown of how tuition dollars are spent and not letting up until they get it, we really can’t judge accurately until we see where all, or even most, of the money is going, the author is focusing on a small fraction of the whole going to ‘questionable’ events and ‘unworthy’ commencement speakers. Which is sort of like Mitt Romney, should he have become president, vowing to eliminate the national endowments for the arts and humanities, cancel federal funding for PBS to facilitate national debt reduction representing little more than a drop in the bucket. Can you say A-waste of paper and B-you sound more like Kevin’s dad in the Home Alone 2 classic this graduating class was watching around age 4 coinciding with 10 year anniversary DVD rereleases, “Kevin you spent $967 on room service!;” huge scream used for effect only, than someone serious about college tuition reform. Added to the irrelevance of the article, similar to Bernie Sanders’ problem relentlessly hammering Hillary Clinton on her speaking fees from Goldman Sacs, there is no indication their cited example, Mathew McCaughey again, (why exactly are we beating up on him) demanded such a sum to do the speech, he wouldn’t have done the speech for free if asked; it appearing that’s merely what they offered him and he accepted. In fact closer scrutiny finds the money donated to charity; commenters quick to blast the school for negotiating his appearance through his agent rather than speaking to the star directly. Facts cleverly relayed, message continued to be down with paying ‘useless’ celebrities money to do unrelated, highly irrelevant (oh the irony) commencement addresses; not schools get smarter about how you pay for those commencement addresses, line up your commencement speakers. Most stars are flattered to be asked and would do it for free, the cost of a plane ticket when asked, if given enough notice not to interfere with prior engagements, shooting schedules exc. The only time you’ll really get a no, unless the person is terrified of public speaking, doesn’t know what to say, knows they don’t have anything profound, the right things to say; hey you can’t win everything, isn’t that what they’re always telling us? Almost the undercurrent to the entire article, vapid celebrities stop doing commencement addresses; don’t you know you’re unworthy and using us to revive your career is not what you’re there for? Though there is no indication that’s what any of them are doing or that they want the ‘red carpet’ treatment when agreeing to do the speech any more than doing it constitutes ‘the red carpet’ to them. Subsequent story commenters even skeptical that universities were using public monies provided to public institutions for the lavish commencement speaking fees opposed to private sources, the usual trend behind private colleges’ new whatever named after a former alum or rich benefactor; why disclosure is so important.
As for who they should get instead, opting for more substantial, meaningful, real-life persons war heroes, government officials, Pulitzer Prize winners, it’s a tricky proposition on both sides some students, alluded to before, want the big name celebrity to come to their commencement, give a rousing speech; others want more down to earth persons, people with real jobs to give them hope they aren’t as doomed as all the news programs and purported experts seem to think they are. Booking people classified war heroes or prominent political figures can backfire spectacularly illustrated by this comment: “The celebrity worship on this level has been building for decades. About 20 years ago, I was living in South Bend, Indiana when the University of Notre Dame invited then-Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan to be its commencement speaker. The student body president, a graduating senior that year, complained publicly that Kernan was not “big” enough to be the commencement speaker. Sure, presidents and major celebrities were past commencement speakers, but her comments smacked of a spoiled, bratty child not getting a pony for her Sweet 16. It was also insulting to Joe Kernan, a Notre Dame alum, decorated Vietnam veteran, former POW, former mayor of South Bend and current (at the time) Lt. Governor. Many people within Notre Dame refuted her whining and said it was an honor to have Kernan as the speaker. But still, that student body president had people in her corner, too, because major universities have made it commonplace for actors, musicians and other celebrities with no connections to the university to receive an honorary doctorate and an open mic at commencement. It’s one thing if a famous actor or singer returns to his or her alma mater to deliver a commencement speech. I get that. It’s one thing if a celebrity makes a major contribution to the university and/or community in some way so it would make sense that person is the commencement speaker. But it seems some schools—and celebs themselves—are turning this annual tradition into another way to get the red carpet treatment. All I can say is I hope no Kardashian ever gets invited to be commencement speaker.” Nothing included about the speech Mr. Kernan gave, perhaps it wasn’t that he wasn’t big enough, he was just a snooze, a poor public speaker; all students graduating from Notre Dame aren’t originally from Indiana and therefore would not know the man’s local history only coming to campus 9 months out of the year for school. Also proving it helps if students know who the heck the person speaking is; you may not agree with Mathew McCaughey or Bill Maher, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Hank Azaria doing commencement speeches not held at art schools, film schools, acting schools, but you at least have some faint idea who they are, can google them on your smartphone and expediently arrive at a conclusion as to why they were invited. Today Mr. Kernan wouldn’t receive a warm welcome at any school for a vastly different reason— being a war veteran because war is bad, war should be avoided and America has been embroiled in too many lately; wondered is if our commenter is old enough to remember, paid enough attention in history class to know just how highly unpopular Vietnam was in its time making any war vet from that era unwelcome at such an event for decades? Who remembers, or should we say can forget, Condoleezza Rice’s commencement invite rapidly turned unwelcome sign, turned political football stemming from protests by a handful of Arabic students unsettled by her role in the Iraq war, many of them from there, her perceived perpetuation of Bush era lies, a section of recent history public majority wants to divorce themselves from completely? Twisted by the right wing media into evidence of intolerance, they were constantly and justly accused of, typical millennials overreaction in the days of safe spaces, trigger warnings, lawsuits if you look at someone funny, too much. Yet as I wrote back in 2014 “Is that what commencement speeches are now, places where quotas on fairness, bipartisanship and tolerance have to be met; should schools suddenly be wheedled into issuing a dual invite to Lindsey Graham and John McCain to weave their Benghazi witch hunt theories? Is our stated goal for republican supporters, al-a Clint Eastwood, to reprise his monologue to a chair imaginatively containing president Obama as part of a commencement speech; should Rush Limbaugh expound on why he continues to believe Sandra fluke is a slut, Karl Rove explain his theory on Hillary Clinton’s “brain damage” stemming from a health scare the network he loves to appear on (Fox News) thought was a joke, to appease the tolerance police, begging tolerance not for a group of people, an ethnicity, a religion but for downright insane, echo chamber unsubstantiated nonsense? Moreover, do we seriously expect a Todd Akin, a Richard Mourdock be invited, allowed to speak at a women’s college considering both their comments on rape, Mr. Akins complete misunderstanding of basic reproductive education and a woman’s body? How bout a Mike Huckabee willing to bash Natalie Portman as a single mother to be while ignoring a much more public, drama inducing Bristol Palin, reality TV shows essentially glorifying teenage parenthood, his actual target for criticism; surely mama Sara and her pal Michele Bachmann would be welcome, provided they could keep their historical facts straight, stand the laughing of history majors in the audience, make it through obvious objections to the notion the best thing a woman can be is a wife and mother, barefoot and pregnant, things really were better under slavery because of increased two parent homes. The above proving these people aren’t wanted on college campuses, aren’t being invited, would be justifiably booed off stage, not for their conservatism, their religion, but because no learned institution would want their inaccuracies, their skewed views prompting sexism, racism, Xenophobia, supporting going backwards on civil rights, women’s rights, gay/transgender rights endorsed on accredited, respectable campuses.” Outshined 2 years ago by an astronaut giving a commencement speech from, you guested it, outer space, Ms. Rice giving an uneventful speech this year not to be confused with wholly uninspiring; millennial Trump supporters probably took issue with John Kerry giving a speech at Northeastern University, highlighting you can’t come close to pleasing anyone, let alone a majority. Judging from the above context, I think we can grin and bear ‘irrelevant celebrity speakers.’ Then there’s Scott Timberg’s perplexing response to should be acceptable commencement addresses rendered by those who aren’t celebrities in the traditonal sense; people like Scott Kelly and his twin brother paid $40,000 each along with another speaker to do a 3 way co-speech. Haphazardly tossed away the little reality Mark Kelly is the husband of Gabrielle Giffords and the astronomical, literally, medical bills she’d racked up thanks to that shooting in Arizona; perhaps he missed mission prep work at NASA to do said speech, had to miss out on a flight and was going to use the 35,000 to eat on for the next year before continuing said work with NASA— where he actually gets paid. Someone missing both Kelly’s are perfect poster boys for all that STEM emphasis in schools currently; employers praying they go into engineering, technology, skilled trades. Referencing Katie Couric going all the way back to before the recession (2006) makes no sense as tuition was lower, tenure less illusive, the economy in an entirely different place; further, she, despite major career bumps, is still going strong in her field, has a real job. $22,000 to charter a plane for TV morning show anchor Amy Robach was to get her to the commencement on time and the result of poor planning, so name it what it is, say next time plan ahead, have a backup in case your speaker gets sick, dies in a car crash, has a family emergency and call it done. Bafflingly calling out these speakers for their fees then defending Toni Morrison’s getting paid $30,000 as starting to make sense because “giving an accomplished person whose accomplishments fit the mission of the school bother me a lot less: For Rutgers to pay Toni Morrison – a novelist who has won a Nobel Prize, after all…;” me thinks I smell a jilted English major who wanted their favorite author at commencement and didn’t get them. Neither did any of the celebrities seem to botch the occasion putting too much focus on themselves, being too down to earth, too pessimistic, filling the time talking about partying and hair (chief complaint about Snooki for an entrainment event not a commencement speech) were generally bad at it; they did precisely what they were tapped to do, hope filled good advice to the next generation, people just starting out in earnest on life’s journey refreshingly giving the ‘tough love’ a rest.
On an unfailingly serious note, what we should be far more worried about concerning college tuition, the colligate money making machine currently operating in higher education is tuition rates serval times inflation without explanation; spending on amenities for the campus comprising a new football stadium, basketball arena, particularly in light of cheating scandals involving sports and a student, in college, who wanted to learn to read better in order read articles about himself, needing help sounding out Wisconsin, the plagiarized, ungrammatical paragraph ‘term paper’ comprising 146 words that got an A-, when we can see the problem at all not just the symptoms. Egregious beyond measure, when it bleeds as far down as the high school level, the town who voted in splurging 63 million dollars towards a football stadium on par with neighboring Texas ‘behemoths’ so students can get the same opportunities; you have to ask yourself, opportunities to what end, CTE level brain damage? Returning specifically to college, the under reported and widely unknown deceptive tactics to get their hands on student money for no other reason than to line their pockets, not educate students in the slightest; strictly for profit entities like Phoenix and Kaplan Universities, Phoenix lying to one student about his ability to get into criminal justice with a felony on his record, virtually no job open to him. Another woman paid thousands of dollars to an adjacent for profit institution to become what we beg so many people to become in this country, a teacher, an elementary school teacher to be exact, only to find out the supposed teaching certificate she’d been given along with supplementary materials advertising she could sit exams in her desired state, Illinois, then teach after 2 years due to a contract they had with the Illinois state school system, was totally worthless; similar instances repeated with undercover perspective students working for a news exposé in Texas and California. Why, accreditations in all 3 states are fundamentally different than the locations of the for profit schools; a case for national standards if we’ve ever heard one. Instances years old but prevalent in present day as many of the schools investigated are continuing operations, you continue seeing TV ads for them offering education opportunities, ‘practical’ job skills for high paying, open vacancy jobs housing solid salaries. Bigger problems when the for profit model bleeds into standard universities like New York Law School sued by several students in 2012 based on, they thought unfair, misleading representation of the school’s post-graduation employment rates including paid and unpaid internships, part time and unrelated jobs—minimum wage, fast food, retail nearly identical to numbers disseminated by the for profit institutions; the latter often going a step further and claiming credit for jobs students obtained, maintained before, during, after schooling, inflating job titles to make them sound more sophisticated and higher paying. A student working in fashion, actuality they sold shoes in a chain stores shoe department, a former accounting major was actually earning minimum wage cashiering at McDonald’s and a business graduate was employed as a janitor. Worse, the law school won its case and with it the right to continue deceiving students; at minimum we should be able to say to a law school it’s illegal to do this, galvanize that into law. Complicating problems exponentially examining the cost of college compared to the value to the student calculating left over debt, how many years to pay it off, financial choices, sacrifices made in the meantime—attitudes; roughly 3 years ago educators, employers, industry watchers stating simply there were too many lawyers graduating law school, passing the bar because people thought it was a safe, sure bet to a job. Pressed about where students got that idea asserting it just happened, except these things don’t just happen; law school marketing aside, they went into it believing, who wouldn’t, it was a guarantee to a job. Remember our pizza serving law grad who wanted to work in legal aid, help poor, average persons who can’t afford pricey legal advice; we can’t say there are too many of those. Next they’ll be saying there are too many doctors, nurses, home heath aids because service minded millennials have been flocking to those for almost 2 solid decades; no one’s buying that. Look at the final link above—a law grad working as a barista, living with her fiancé at her grandmother’s unable to afford anything else; years old yes, but why, if this is where the jobs are, and the needle hasn’t moved much on tangible job prospects, have we heard for as many decades or more ‘there aren’t enough low skill jobs to accommodate low skill workers coming out of outdated substandard high schools’ as an argument for ever raising standards, employers screaming about the 300 million job jobs gap and an inability to find workers? Yet the fight for $15, mandating the minimum wage be a living wage, is the disgusting product of coddled, entitled, over indulged kids who never learned how to work hard, wrongly elevating low skilled labor taking away one more shred of incentive; look at the crisis in Venezuela, what happens when you give, give, give people ‘free stuff’ courtesy of the government!—right. It directly correlates to what I said last week about artists, if there are no reasonable guarantees to employment regardless of your standard degree choice, why can’t we all be ‘painters on the cave wall’ as it doesn’t seem to make a bit of difference; adjacently college graduates soon to be hopeful employees ‘are not ready for work’ because a degree means employers have to teach practical field job skills they can only get on the job, things they remain stubbornly unwilling to do opting to pressure colleges into more work, continue complaining. Plus reading article particulars about computer software and business jobs, it assumes all graduates are going into either field, not the dozens of popular helping professions, undergraduates going on to further, more specialized schooling. But colleges and their commencement speaker costs are the largest unknown problem with the education/employment system at this stage, uh-huh. Unrelated to financial issues or totally related taking into account PR, bad press, rightfully tarnished reputations—safely on college campuses, rampant rape allegations, the rape epidemic on college campuses; no parent is going to want to send their child even to a religious school housing an honor code if that honor code prevents them from reporting rape, is used against them by their assailant and the school to keep them quiet, expel them for violations—allegations at BYU. Protecting football seemed more important at Baylor than protecting female students who only fired their football coach and demoted their president after independent legal investigations found a wholly inadequate response; they mean absolute mess, administrators discouraging reporting, at least one instance of retaliation. Irony of ironies their president was Ken Starr, a guy who older folks know thanks to his rigorous investigation of former president Clinton’s relationship with a Whitehouse intern, for an unusual consensual sex act, but he can’t keep unsuspecting students safe from horny football players, forget teach his players what real consent looks like. Penn State is still synonymous with Jerry Sandusky’s history of child sex abuse, story broke in 2011 with his arrest after a 2 year investigation, Sandusky now a convicted child predator, (2012) and the newest allegation (then) football head coach Joe Paterno knew of the allegations as early as 1976. Bill Cosby’s contact with accuser Andrea Constand began as she worked in the athletics department at Temple University where he was a highly involved alumnus. Commencement speaking fees, you’re worried about commencement speaking fees?
Bringing it down to the smaller scale, for years we have heard warning calls about our too litigious society, our overregulated society none more representative than our school system comprising serval of the things made wrong with commencement speeches, ceremonies, in and of themselves, by virtue of asinine rules and policies there shouldn’t be rules and polices for, i.e. facial hair on the male class valedictorian barred from the ceremony after repeated warnings he would be banned if he showed up unshaven. Comments readily pouncing on the irony his dreadlocks were ok but not his goatee, far from a full beard; reprising the eagle feather incident from the year before, how about throwing a student out of their own graduation for donning a traditional African cloth, showcasing their heritage. We can all hear the echoes now, ‘but if they were warned, knew these were the rules then they deserve to be thrown out, I’m sick of these kids who think the rules don’t apply to them, there should be exceptions made for them,’ at least one person having a problem with the dreads and yelping about where the young man will ever get a job. Except refer back to above, THERE SHOULDN’T BE RULES FOR HAIR, HERITAGE SYMBOLS, ATTIRE FOR A GRADUATION CEREMONY any different than there was during school, period; particularly odd since some schools allowed students to decorate their caps. To be clear, these students were not wearing arm bands announcing affiliation with the Arion Nation, buzz cut swastikas, terrorist flags, symbols into their hair, gang signs, offensive gestures, wearing something plainly visible that was inappropriate, contained profanity; (never mind you get so many requests for accommodations, exceptions, exemptions because you insist on strange ‘rules’ for benign clothing) one showed up in his cap and gown ready to graduate looking quite handsome face hair, dreadlocks and all, the other added an African cloth to his graduation garb that has been seen in many places before and wasn’t such a big distraction, gaudy standout he should have been deprived of an earned special day. Hardly lost on anyone, both cases targeted African Americans males for, in essence, being African American males adding a racial component to it whether they intended to or not; certainly sending a negative racially charged message they didn’t want darkening the occasion. Occasions like high school graduation ceremonies that come once in a lifetime, which is why what one Arizona high school did to a student battling leukemia is heartbreakingly unforgiveable; Stephen Dwyer withdrew from school his junior year to undergo a lifesaving bone marrow transplant maintaining online classes and rejoining the swim team, being elected student body president on return in the fall of 2015, even taking an early morning class to further catch up. Fast forward to graduation 2016 2 ½ credits shy of his goal, on track to graduate in December and they refused to let him walk at the May ceremony sparking global outpouring on Facebook when he shared what transpired. Still some may wonder why the importance of now, aside from the fact he could reject the marrow transplant at any time despite anti-rejection drugs, it’s pivotal because there won’t be a graduation ceremony in December, no fanfare, no recognition, nothing; compounding the injustice Dwyer embodies the traits we constantly tell kids, people they need to have, will carry them where they want to go. He could have easily done less, graduated a full academic year later and no one would have faulted him for it, not his teachers, his peers, probably not his parents, yet he chose to put in the effort, to push himself to attempt graduating with his class, on time. Key, he is graduating in December not because of goofing off, being academically slow, possessing a learning disability, jail time, so there isn’t the likelihood of other students coming out of the woodwork demanding the same ‘special treatment,’ getting leukemia through no fault of his own, offered lifesaving treatment everyone doesn’t get, and they couldn’t even turn it into an honorary thing? Guaranteed had they done so, explaining a little of his story, the crowd would have been on their feet cheering the soon to be graduate. You know it’s bad, misunderstanding, and abject cluelessness have taken over knowledge, things have gone completely out of control when the transgender student can’t walk at her graduation less for credits earned and more for perpetuation of bias, when showing up to prom attired in a suite, being a girl, gets you thrown out after there was nothing mentioned in the prom dress code stating ‘girls have to look like girls, be attired in gowns, high class skirts.’ While the young woman relates this to her lifelong preferences and who she’s always been, signifying she could be either trans or lesbian, let me tell you had I done more planning from my own prom attendance I would have worn a pantsuit, because unless the dress is ‘scandalous’ with a slit up the side to your hip movement is severely limited, probably with brand new Airwalk style sneakers, considering my physical limitations, so I could dance. As it was I had no intention of going, was asked last minute and wore a fancy shirt borrowed from my mother, a black plain skirt borrowed from my date’s family (I didn’t/don’t own/wear skirts to this day) and a pair of solid black tennis shoes. There is also a socioeconomic undercurrent to the original story, in that, renting a tux is cheaper than buying or even renting a girl’s gown; true no one said anything to me, but it’s foolish to think said outcome would hold up today under ‘the new rules’ had I attended her high school. You know the apex of fear and stupidity has been reached then surpassed when a Muslim student in a hijab gets named ISIS Philips; turns out she was mistaken for another student not given the name of the terror group and a generic last name as an insult. Caution warranted in projecting the idea all known Muslim students look so much alike you can’t tell them apart, one can be substituted for another; paling in comparison to Citadel Military College’s slight to a female Muslim perspective student saying she couldn’t wear her hijab as part of her uniform thanks to their ‘everyone must look homogenously identical’ dress code. Yes we fully comprehend, if there’s one place where looking exactly like everyone else is required, it’s the military, regardless, who doesn’t understand what a phenomenal gesture in renouncing extremism it is to be Muslim and join the U.S. military, who doesn’t understand what an asset this future graduate of military college could be to our forces fighting wars we got ourselves into in that part of the world? And you’re going to turn her down, not because of her grades, not because of her qualifications, not because of physical regs. matching the military she cannot meet, merely because she wears a head scarf as part of her cultural views on modest dress as much as religious ones, conveniently when they just allowed a Sikh army captain to wear his turban; years of service notwithstanding, let’s remember president Reagan is the one who instituted the uniformity dress code as it is now in a different time, Reagan the republican everyone in the GOP holds up as political god incarnate, republicans who got us into the middle east mess. Underscoring the stupidity in light of current times there are also a limited number of religions mandating military ‘non-compatible’ headwear, attire, accessories, meaning there won’t be a flood of exemptions hitting commanding officers’ desks; Vermont military college more than happy to take the willing applicant head scarf and all. Granted situations this year were pretty mild compared to the harrowingly shameful lowlight reel of last year, the utterly racist remark by a high school principal when the valedictorians speech had been left off the graduation program and she tried, exactly the wrong way, to get everyone to remain seated, the valedictorian more than barred from revealing his sexual identity, ratcheting it up 10 notches, outed to his own father by his principal, but it goes to the prevailing stupidity not exhibited by the children, a coddled generation now graduating, instead the adults. Part of the problem with the bus driver refusing to open bus windows didn’t stop at needless danger posed to younger children being over heated, bad enough one passed out, but not knowing the alarms only go off if you open the window on each side of the bus marked emergency exit, or open same in the back of the bus. Glaringly presented in the Baltimore high school who either didn’t possess the funds or the wherewithal, forward planning sense to rent a lager enough venue for all potential graduation attendees; ending in a ‘stamped ticket,’ no stamped ticket nightmare leaving parents out of the auditorium banging on doors seeking the principal and students refusing to walk without their parents able to see them. Reading the racist test questions, once you can stop being appalled long enough to digest them, it becomes apparent they wrote the math questions to try and be relatable, relevant to students; A+ intention, execution—epic fail. Similarly decades have gone by with older adults lamenting ‘they don’t teach history anymore,’ blamed in part for the Trump tweet image using actual Nazi soldiers complied by a young intern, yet it doesn’t explain how one school’s yearbook ended up with quotes from Hitler, Stalin and the leader of the Islamic state (ISIS). That may be a viable excuse for the high school kids, or that they don’t make Hitler’s book, and who would, required reading; however, innocuous though the quotes may have seemed, excerpt the Stalin one about not letting enemies have guns connected to so why let enemies have ideas, what blue haired lady, adult on the yearbook staff didn’t notice this? Considering the provocative nature of the Stalin quote, why didn’t someone check double check the attributions; guess they were too busy watching the world chewing the principal at one school a new of for allowing rapper Fetty Wap to shoot a video there, students present, containing drug references and a stripper pole, less than they would encounter watching cable TV.
That isn’t to say there weren’t positive powerhouse graduation stories generating hope for all, telling us the world isn’t as doomed as we’re tempted to think it is, these ‘coddled’ kids did learn something of the lessons we tried so hard to teach them, became decent people in spite of ‘the culture.’ The Harvard grad who blew the doors off the arena with a spoken word poem instilling the importance of education in a compelling and historical way after recounting a high school English teacher who nearly banned him from that speaking opportunity when he wanted to include a poem; highlighting too acceptance of arts, spoken word poetry and the newest forms of communication to reach the masses in a way that works best for both speaker and audience. Usually the last person a teen wants to take to prom is their mother unless the just couldn’t get a date, don’t have any friends and don’t want to show up alone but don’t want to miss out, have had their arm twisted by parents to attend this milestone (insert obligatory eye roll); not true of one teen who invited his terminally ill mother to prom solely for the experience, easing her fears her stage 4 brain cancer won’t let her see his wedding day, saying he would have the prettiest date there. A college graduation against all odds as one girl took care of disabled siblings, held 4 jobs, went to school and still had time edit the school literary magazine, found an anime club, going beyond just graduating to graduate with honors. It’s why do the low lights have to be so low, no longer housing earnest but botch pronunciations of names, a fainting valedictorian, a marching band trip that turned into a pile up, someone who tripped over their gown, stumbled unaccustomed to walking in heels, technical difficulties of a dead mic and trying to be heard in a huge auditorium, outdoor ceremonies where diplomas where swept away by wind necessitating reprinting, even someone who slipped a cussword into a speech sending all the adults hiding their heads. By contract today’s lowlights littered with racism, sexism, bias and ill will toward people slightly different, misinterpreting their sexuality, gender though it has nothing to do with the uncomfortable person only the LGBT individual being who they are, harming no one, ignorance and idiocy we’re all too quick to place on the younger generation, the derelicts in graduating audiences who made it by cheating, only meeting the lowest bars, emerging by the skin of their teeth. Lowlights indicative of the Texas school (honestly only in Texas—sigh) who will not recognize national honors society members for fear it will make students who didn’t receive the honor feel excluded; demonstrating once and for all who really wants to be coddled, sheltered, who has the extreme aversion to conflict and who these steps are actually taken for. Adults who don’t want to have to explain their choices, haven’t thought them through enough to be able to do so, adults who either want to preempt a PR nightmare, creating one in the process, or have so little faith in the budding adults they’ve had for 4 years believe it necessary. Because not one student complained, neighboring schools going on with the nationally acclaimed, tradition those who would (complain) probably believe national honor’s society contention to be ‘stupid,’ by which they mean totally not for them to strive for seeking other goals and achievements or none at all past graduation uninterested in the amassing of accolades so you can simply count how many you have dismissing meaning attached to any of them. Lowlights including commentary on the exorbitant cost of college commencement speakers supposed to drown out all other problems, drastically reduce student debt if immediately disbanded, wholly untrue but it makes for good click bate; ignoring how many students who are going into the arts, have to fight for respect for their craft, how they operate in it and, if you want good work, you have to pay good money for it. A big lesson 99% of companies could learn from huge college commencement fees offered and accepted not demanded.