Commencing the Rest of Your Life

These past couple of weeks, many of our local students flicked their tassels to the other side of their mortarboard hats and entered the “real world” as new college graduates. Boy, do we not envy them.

Nor do we envy those who have to stand up at the podium and tell them that, sure, student loan debts are through the roof and some people think that college educations offer no ROI anyway—not to mention the unemployment rate—but things are going to be okay.

Luckily, our local institutions found great speakers to deliver some straight-talk to the class of 2011. Sarah Lawrence College, for example, hosted Arianna Huffington on May 20. Huffington is, of course, best known as the mogul behind the Huffington Post (“I love the fact that you have a James Joyce scholar as your president,” she told the class, “because it’s a little-known fact that, when I was considering launching the Huffington Post in 2005, I first thought I was going to call it Huffington’s Wake. It was going to be full of puns, and allusions to Greek mythology, and there was going to be a blog by Leopold Bloom, and another by Steven Dedalus, and nobody was actually going to read it, but everybody was going to pretend to have read it and declare it fabulous.” Is that not the best description of the 21st-century college experience?)

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When addressing the SLC grads, Huffington did not shy away from the grim picture facing the class. She noted that we live in “a world in which seventy percent of people in this country think we’re on the wrong track, in which twenty-five million people are unemployed or underemployed, and in which, for the first time, total outstanding student-loan debt will be higher than total credit-card debt, over a trillion dollars. The percentage of young adults moving back with Mom and Dad is thirty-four percent.” Yikes. Talk about things you don’t want to think about when you’re scanning the want ads every day looking for your first big break. (Although the blunt reality sounds better coming from her than most. When talking about the economy, for example, she said, ” I have a feeling sometimes, for example, that if Lehman Brothers was Lehman Brothers and Sisters, it might still be around today.” I just love that.)

But—and here’s what separates ol’ pessimistic me from heavy-hitters like Huffington—she was able to instill some hope. She did this by, of all things, talking about a failed romantic relationship. “I desperately wanted to have kids and he wanted to have cats,” she said. “So, I did something that I was, at the time, terrified to do: I left him. I left this man I was very much in love with, and because I didn’t trust myself to leave him and stay in London, I left him and moved to New York. So, the rest of my life, my children, my books, the Huffington Post, the fact that I’m standing here speaking to you on your commencement day would not have happened if this man had married me. So, my whole life happened because a man refused to marry me. So, remember that, okay? In life, the things that go wrong are often the very things that lead to other things going right.”

I hope to keep that in mind next time my deadlines approach, none of my sources are calling me back, and the layouts are piling up on my desk.

Any advice you’d like to give to the class of 2011? Let me know in the comments

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