Friday, June 25, 2010

Grads, you're not victims

College graduates being given wrong advice?

This article has been reprinted with permission from The Ventura County (Calif.) Star

Commencement speeches are part lip service and part lip biting. You feel you should tell the graduates how great they are and how the future is full of bright sunny days. But you know that what you really should tell them is to carry an umbrella.

Whether matriculating from high school or college, graduates don’t need to hear about how they’re going to take the world by storm. They need to be told that failures and disappointments are part of life. In fact, these things can be among the most valuable parts. If people get everything they want in life and mostly experience smooth sailing, chances are they’re not setting their goals high enough.

When individuals fall short at something or suffer a personal or professional setback, what matters is how they respond. Of course, they shouldn’t give up. Perseverance is essential to success.

But more than that, they also shouldn’t point fingers, make excuses or duck responsibility for their actions. It’s wasted energy, the kind that only sets the stage for more failure.

That’s the message President Barack Obama recently brought to Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan. He addressed graduates after the school was chosen as one of six finalists in the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge. The contest intends to highlight schools that promote academic excellence, teach personal responsibility and prepare students for college and careers. Part of this preparation, Obama told the graduates, is accepting that the “responsibility for your success is squarely on your shoulders.” He contrasted that with how things work in Washington, where “everybody is always pointing a finger at somebody else” and making excuses for what doesn’t get done.

Granted, this message could be much more persuasive if it wasn’t coming from a president who, whenever he gets in a tight spot, can’t wait to make excuses and point his finger at the news media, Republicans in Congress, or the Bush administration. But however imperfect the messenger, the message is exactly the right one.

If that sounds like what your grandparents used to call good common sense, it is. The trouble is that, these days, good sense isn’t so common. Not when the national motto is: “Hey, it’s not my fault.”

We try to make sense of setbacks by cursing the heavens and depicting ourselves at the mercy of forces beyond our control. When we don’t get what we want, the first thing many of us do is search out someone to blame.

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