Good morning, Class of 2013. Welcome to your required college commencement address delivered by someone you never heard of containing platitudes you will soon forget, such as “march to greatness” and “onward and upward.” If you don’t the direction by now, it’s too late. Looking out at your smiling, expectant and innocent faces would give me a thrill except that I know most of you are texting or tweeting or whatever you call those things, and are not paying the slightest attention to me.
We are here to celebrate your graduation from college after four years, or in some cases, five or six. We know your stay with us was filled with the excitement of learning, of growing, of turning your dorm rooms into meth labs. In that regard, whoever took all the fire hoses from Montezuma Hall please return them, along with the campus fire marshal. You have been living on pizza and beer, sleeping through those 8 o’clock classes and planning tailgating parties. Also, you have been introduced to a fine and expensive education. Whether you partook of it was up to you.
As you leave these hallowed halls of ivy, there are a few things you should know, which I learned through hard work, a few mistakes not to mention ex-wives, indictments and enormous legal fees. You have been told never to play poker with a guy named Lucky, never eat at a dinner called Mom’s and never buy a Rolex from a guy who’s out of breath. George Will advised never to take stock market advice from someoen who rolls up his sleeves and shouts to you over the TV. I would add never buy stock, period. Never trust someone who calls you “Dude” or asks if he can borrow your Social Security number for an hour or has an unlisted DNA. We all know the expression, never take a knife to a gunfight. I recommend you avoid gunfights in the first place.
We now come to jobs. It’s a jungle out there, and you’re up the Congo without a machete. The outlook is bleak, yet not hopeless. A new survey by the National Association for Colleges and Employers, which sounds like a make-work project for unemployed English majors, has done a survey of 400,000 employers plus government data and rumors from a guy named Dude. The average starting salary for you members of the Class of 2013 is going to be $44,928, up from last year’s $42,666. A few years ago, during the depths of the Recession, any paycheck was appreciated.
Got any engineers here? Oh, yes, you with the pocket protectors and thick glasses. You top the chart at $62,535 for an annual starting salary. Earning more is pretty standard for people who like to work in dark cubicles, tell knock-knock jokes and have no love life. Computer science majors are second with $59,977. You’re in the adjoining cubicle. At the very bottom are those who majored in the humanities and social sciences — history, philosophy and streaking. The old joke was such graduates should learn how to say, “Would you like fries with that?” Or, “Please pull up to the next window.” Today it’s, “Hello, I’m Lance. This is not a sales call, but you have been chosen….” You know the drill.
If you can’t get a job, do like millions of other recent graduates have done: move back in with your folks. Or just look around at today’s audience. Stay in grad school and become a professor. The work is easy. You give the same lectures every semester. With tenure you can’t get fired and your grad students do all the work. Think: paid sabbatical. This brings us to a long-running fight here in Texas at UT-Austin and Texas A&M about how much professors really teach, should they do research and what role the regents should play in micromanaging the school. What’s really important, teaching or research? Let’s cut to the chase here, boys and girls. Former UT regents chairman Frank Erwin put it best, “I want a university the football team can be proud of.” Now there’s a Texan with the right priorities. If you don’t believe me, look at the UT-A&M football stadium race and the coaches’ salaries.
Today you may leave this school, but this school will never leave you. Your university will follow you to the ends of the earth urging you to stay in contact, renew old friendships and, most importantly, send money. The vice president in charge of development –a sneaky name — has pursuit abilities to shame the FBI. Your alumni magazine will feature photos of big donors, fat cats holding enormous checks for a new law library and request — again, a sneaky name — perpetual remembrance, which means: “In your will, leave your money to us.” But before you can “give generously” to your alma mater you’ve first got to get a job to pay off your student loans. Today nationally those loans total more than one trillion dollars, more than the entire nation’s credit card debt. Remember you can’t wiggle out of this IOU by declaring bankruptcy. Federal law prevents it.
Right now America is trying to get out of two wars. The unemployment rate is high, the economy is stagnant and global warming is frying the planet. Our bridges are falling down, Detroit is dead and the world’s Muslims hate us. What’s more, my generation is leaving you a little house-warming gift: a huge national debt. What to do? Just do what your parents did, pass the IOUs on to your own children. Some say the Class of 2013 is inheriting a real mess. Nonsense. It is obvious that we have left you a perfect world. Don’t screw it up.
Next spring another graduating class will be sitting in these very chairs, all thinking the same thing: “How can I get your job?” You have a one year head start. Get busy.
Ashby is employed at firstname.lastname@example.org