CSotD: Graduation Day in the Committee Room

The second Saturday in May would be graduation on a lot of campuses, and it probably still is, since the ones without problems haven’t made the news.

Jeff Stahler (AMS) leads off today because he states the basic issue plainly.

But I need to start with a disclaimer: I skipped my graduation ceremony, because I had taken a year off, so I wasn’t graduating with my class, I had a pregnant wife, and we needed to get rolling with adult life.

I didn’t really give a damn about the ceremony anyway, but I was a third-generation college graduate.

I understand, with the wisdom of age, that the ceremony matters a great deal to both the students and parents for whom it is a family first. It’s not that I was missed among the roughly 1,750 who graduated that day, but I have to avoid being snotty about people who wanted to be there this time around.

As seen in La Cucaracha (AMS), they were robbed, and not just robbed but robbed twice, because their college experience had already been truncated by Covid.

If there were ever a good time to take a gap year or two, it was during the pandemic. The idea that spending a year in your dorm room constituted “going to college” is a tribute to people who mistake the university for a job-training center.

After all, you could have taken Zoom classes from home and saved a bundle. The critical point is that my learning in college was a 50/50 split between the classroom and the rest of the experience, and that’s being very generous to the academic side.

We discussed John Locke and Plato in class, but we applied those concepts to real life in the arguments and conversations outside the classroom. Plus we had four years of growing up amid a thoughtful peer group.

Even students who spent hours working jobs in the library or dininghall, and commuters who went home at the end of the day, got a solid dose of this out-of-classroom advantage.

Patrick Chappatte is correct that those who once demonstrated against the war in Vietnam are now champions of free speech on campus.

But it is a common historical error to assume that the zeitgeist of a moment is a full picture of the time, and, just as not every college student today was camped out on the quad, not every college student of the 60s opposed the war.

We had our “briefcase bourgeoisie” who, a generation later, were personified by Alex P. Keaton, and rightwing thugs who sneered at and sometimes attacked long-haired students.

Nor were most activists obsessed with the fight for social justice and suchlike. Politicos and freaks alike spent plenty of effort attempting to work out personal experiences of romance and learning to play the guitar.

I also recall putting a lot of time into the books, and that was just me, who graduated, in the words of Shannon Sharpe, “magna cum thank you laude.”

All of which emphasizes Chappatte’s contention that we weren’t so different from the students of today.

However, the world is different and colleges are of this world.

Barry Blitt’s cover for the upcoming New Yorker demonstrates a critical difference. There were some college leaders like S.I. Hayakawa who prided themselves on playing tough-guy, but it seemed there were more Theodore Hesburghs and Kingman Brewsters who led with the understanding that contentious debate was often part of the learning process.

The intervention of outside police was rare. Most college presidents not only hesitated to call them in but would resist political efforts to militarize the campus.

However, Bob Englehart has it right: Those old-school college presidents didn’t have to worry about being pilloried by congressional committees and fired by their trustees for not being the rightwing equivalent of “politically correct.”

Those who survive today will be those educators who teach the lesson that, “If you want to get along, you have to go along.”

Lord knows, Drew Sheneman (Tribune) paints an accurate picture of the current-day ruling mood. If future historians judge our times by the zeitgeist of the moment, it may well be a picture of hypocritical judgment and selective repression.

Though it won’t seem to have been either hypocritical or selective in retrospect, if the next elections cement it into place as the norm.

And, however things turn out in November, the dragon’s teeth have been sown.

JFK called a generation to public service, and reaction to his assassination brought about a lowering of violence on TV shows and a ban on mail-order firearms.

I don’t want to see what horror might produce enough revulsion to reverse the societal division that has since been unleashed. We argued over Kent State, and then Sandy Hook didn’t make a dent.

Juxtaposition of the Day

Bill Bramhall

Cathy Wilcox

My first impression of Bramhall’s piece was that nobody in the real world cares what you did in college, though they may want to know you graduated. I was asked about my grades once, when I applied to take a Civil Service test. My extra-curricular behavior never came up.

Then again, I just needed to pay rent and groceries while I became the next JD Salinger. I didn’t want to work in some up-tight corporate dystopia, and my advice to current grads would be not to work for jackasses.

But I didn’t graduate with a five-figure student loan debt into a world where “affordable” studio apartments are $1800 a month.

I still don’t think you should kowtow to corporate fascism, and I suspect the kids in the tents feel the same.

But I wonder if they’re going to be able to get by after graduation by making pizzas or selling vacuum cleaners.

I wasn’t sure whether I should start with this Francis or end with it, but here we are, and Gabby and Leo lay out the situation quite well. Righteousness matters, but comes with a cost.

I hope the kids in the tents feel the satisfaction of having done what they must, but it reinforces both my advice that everyone should take a gap year or two before committing to higher education, and my support for a program similar to the GI Bill, exchanging scholarships for public service.

Much depends on November.

11 thoughts on “CSotD: Graduation Day in the Committee Room

  1. Your closing statement made me envious of the ability for an 18 year old having just graduated from high school to have the option of a “gap year”. Back in my day (and yours, as we both well remember), attempting to take a year or two off from higher education guaranteed that Uncle Sam would have a huge say in what life experiences you got during that time.

    I never really wanted to go to college. Actually, I would have been happier going to the local Vo-Tech to learn auto mechanics. What I did want, above all else (in a very particular order) was: 1. To get away from my parents, home, and home town, and, 2. Stay out of the military and South East Asia. Incidentally, were we not at war, a military career would have been quite acceptable.

    So I went to college. Which, in the course of my life, gave me two degrees and turned out to be a complete waste of time when it came to the next fifty years in the workforce. But it accomplished both critical points in my life. And gave me a lot of good sex, drugs, and rock and roll . . . . . . and a very heightened sense of political activism.

  2. My dad (a high school English teacher and later principal) gave me some great advice many years ago. I had left college to go to work, and wound up doing very well, but still felt guilty about never having gotten a degree. I asked him if he thought I should go back. His answer was, “Do you want the knowledge, or do you want the certification *proving* you have the knowledge? If you don’t need the certification, there are plenty of ways to learn on your own, if you really want to and you’re willing to work at it.” He was right! I got into the habit of learning on my own. And right up to the day he died, Dad was still recommending great books for me to read.

    1. When I dropped out with one year to go, I told my grandfather I planned to go back and finish in a year or two. He agreed with the plan, saying I’d likely spend less time finishing up than I would over the years explaining why I hadn’t.

  3. Friendly correction: Sandy Hook.

    I read Chappatte differently. The man who stood with the students when he was young now stands with the authorities, and the people “occupying” the college campus are the protesters, not the cops. It’s the trope of the young radical turning into the old reactionary, which I acknowledge has some truth–all those old Fox watchers had to come from somewhere–but is the opposite of my experience. Some folks get mean as they age, but others become kinder and more tolerant. I prefer the latter.

    1. You’re probably right, but it’s a sad take if true. The old chestnut of hippies who turn into conservatives is allied to what I said about mistaking the zeitgeist for the overall trend. I know a few hangers-on who only had long hair because it was stylish and happily jumped on the next bus that came to town, but 90% of the folks in the movement became teachers or counselors or the kinds of politicians who make like difficult for the hatemongers and bureaucrats. One guy runs a jazz club in San Diego, another became an EPA administrator. The students who became hatemongers and bureaucrats already were and were the briefcase bourgeoisie I mentioned above.

      Thanks for the heads up, Brian. Fixed. Sandy Creek was a delightful tiny place near where I lived in Maine. Much better vibe indeed.

  4. We seem to have different interpretations of the Chappatte cartoon. In the first panel, the… protagonist is facing/standing against the police. In the second, he’s standing WITH them against the protestors. It seems to me, Chappatte is taking the position that the protesters of yesteryear stand in contrast with today’s. You seem to have taken the opposite interpretation (the one that would seem to more accurately reflect reality, for what it’s worth). I clicked through to Chappatte’s FB page, and looked through some of his other cartoons, and his bent is difficult to decipher from the first half dozen or so cartoons, so I may be short on familiarity with his back catalog. Maybe the ambiguity is part of the point?

  5. Drew Sheneman got it concisely correct!

    I, and a couple of university professors I know, maintain that; the problem lies with corporate-owned universities and corporate-owned administrators who know nothing about (and don’t care about) what the role of a university should be.

    Mike wrote: I wasn’t sure whether I should start with this Francis or end with it, but. . Gabby and Leo lay out the situation quite well. Righteousness matters, but comes with a cost. . . my advice that everyone should take a gap year or two before committing to higher education.

    I and my cohorts kept our ‘righteousness’ activity low key but persistent to prevent a ‘cost’ we couldn’t afford. The American Friends Service Committee helped us do that. Also, we didn’t have the financial luxury of a gap year. Earning a living couldn’t be put off. We went to a few classes at a time at community colleges.

    Christine A Lehman above wisely pointed out the difference between certification and education.

    I know many with doctorates that are very knowledgeable. I also have known some with doctorates that were dumb as a box of rocks. We posit: Living should involve learning. I completed three years of college and it rounded-out out my education. But I learned more by independent study and with the help of a kind, sharing mentors.

  6. p.s.: as I kiddingly told professor Myers the other day, maybe the students should be graduated – in milliliters of alcoholic beverages

  7. Yeah, that Patrick Chappatte panel is very much a “today’s liberals are tomorrow’s conservatives” take

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