This is a generation that faces new challenges. You are not millennials, not Gen Xers, you are quite literally in a class by yourselves—the class of 2017. All around us we see changes we never expected, changes that demand acceptance—or “resistance.” There are economic and political alterations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East. They are accompanied by revolutions in communication, in science, in art. Thanks to the education you’ve received over the last four years, you’re well-equipped to handle these challenges. Good luck. Not that you’ll need it.
Oops. That was from a pre-millennial commencement speech. As you can see, it was a hit with school officials and alumni and the graduates could recite every word, even to this day. Here’s this year’s speech:
I am a recognizable name. My achievements will be duplicated by few, if any, of you.
This is not a matter of arrogance or superiority. My IQ is no larger than yours, my background no more illustrious. It’s just that I had to make my own way in college and in life. Believe it or not, we had to read books that upset us. If you had to do that today, it would be called lit boot camp. Your courses outdid themselves with political correctness on steroids, identifying the emotional triggers in the classics and dismissing them as harmful and irrelevant. And who could blame them? Reading books without “trigger warnings ” might upset fragile sensibilities, never acknowledged by the unwary professors in my time.
When I attended this institution, we were exposed to a barrage of philosphical, political and sociological ideas. Some were agreeable, some were challenging, some were repulsive. But they were all vital components of the undergraduate experience. In those vanished days we were so naïve. You, on the other hand, are well versed in White Privilege, Cultural Appropriation, and Safe Spaces.
In my time, there were no holes pre-cut in the knees and thighs of our jeans—we had to cut them open ourselves, with little guidance from elders, and there were no safe rooms. There were no unsubstantiated accusations of date rape, no charges of “fascism” from people whose parents were not even alive when the Third Reich was in the ascendant. (That Reich, by the way, found many early supporters in the German universities.) I can’t believe we missed out on all the fun you millennials were having.
In the day, my generation was thought of as the real game-changer. You know–teach-ins, speakouts, loud protests. But these were modest indeed by your standards. Maybe it started when you were invited to “Rate My Professors,” as if they were a new reality show. When my generation invited people to speak, people of all shades in the spectrum of ideas came, addressing us with discretion and dignity. We returned the favor. If we challenged them it was with courtesy, and they departed without incident. Sound familiar? Of course not. During your college years, when those with unpopular ideas were invited to speak, vehement objections were heard—and the speakers were quickly “disinvited.” On the rare occasions when they did appear, they were intimidated or even injured.
Talk about fascism: Could Jason Riley, a black conservative and a star of the Wall St. Journal, be peacefully heard at colleges and universities? Nein. Could Professor Charles Murray be listened to quietly by people who hadn’t read his books and had no idea what he wrote? Nein. Bestselling author Heather Mac Donald? Nein. Would provocateurs like Milo Yiannoppoulos and Ann Coulter be tolerated? Nein nein, nein.
And that’s looking at the glass as half full. Looking at as half empty notes that you have turned Amendment Number One into Enemy Number One. Look around you. Almost everyone speaks in the same tone, expresses the identical views. To violate this conformity is to invite outrage, ostracisim, violence. You have been called snowflakes. This is unfair to such flakes everywhere. For they have character—no two are alike.
Your college president knows this and will do nothing about it. He is busy with something else. Nobody knows what. College, once a place for the exchange of ideas, a spacious home for the liberal arts, has become at best a serious joke, at worst a national scandal. You’re not entirely to blame for your post high-chair tantrums; no one ever dared to say “no” to you. No one helped you get the hang of a a pluralistic marketplace of ideas, least of all a timorous faculty ever fearful that they might say something that might lose them tenure.
I don’t envy you folks. Out there is a world full of people who do not look to authorities for a list of approved Halloween costumes or novels without any offensive words. You’ll have to make your own way among employees with different ideas, and among employers who don’t set aside safe spaces. For those of you wounded by opinions you haven’t even heard yet, good luck. You’ll need it.