This is a terrific alternative commencement speech by John Feffer of Foreign Policy in Focus. He didn’t really give it to any particular college or university. It’s what he would have said, if asked. I completely agree with Feffer that American college is more about socialization than education, but I would add that socialization is education, as long as one is sober. He is describing some worst case scenarios here. But his basic message is what I share: If you love America, leave it. It’s a direct contrast to the 60s mantra, “America: Love It or Leave It.”
Given the challenges that lie outside the gates of this academic Garden of Eden, it might seem a bit rude for me to add yet another burden to your shoulders on your special day. But as Americans, and I’m focusing my remarks on American citizens graduating from college, we have an even greater debt to pay. You have grown up in the wealthiest, most powerful country in the history of the world. You are also citizens of a country that has run roughshod over international law in its many wars, subversions of democracy, and contempt for international institutions. We have benefitted at the expense of others – their resources, their low-paid labor – and most of us simply continue to rack up this debt.
What can you do to discharge this obligation? One important action step is: get out of town. Go and live in a very different community. Become fluent in another language and another culture. Learn humility. “Love it or leave it,” Middle America told the Vietnam War protestors back in the 1960s. Let me turn that sentiment around: love it and leave it. To save America, we must all learn how to act as global citizens.
What is your reaction to this commencement speech? A commencement speech in America is a right of passage from young adulthood into professional life. What might a Japanese commencement speech emphasize to a young graduating class? What would you want to hear?
I think that this commencement speech is very appropriate to young Americans graduating from universities and maybe he wants to warn youngsters not to be flogs in a well, because it is said (or seems to me) that generally Americans are naive about foreign affairs or languages. They can speak only English and have little interest in foreign news. And secondly, some politicians still think America is the No.1 country since America has had an enormous power in international relations so far. Therefore, his speech is a caution to young Americans, especially who believe still their country is the strongest in the world.
Thanks Nancy! Good to see you engaged in this area as well. I just completed a course on cultural psychology myself and will shortly return to my prime area of interest – media psychology.
Thanks for your astute comments. I like that idea of seeking out at least two international sources to gain a better understanding of an issue presented in the American press. We Americans do take for granted not only our American standard of living but also frequently ignore the global economy and global civil society implications and comparisons. We are far too often a nation unto ourselves. I appreciated John Feffer’s poignant remarks and appeal to American students to get outside America and the American mindset.
This really resonated with me having done just that. Americans live inside a bubble of perceptions that have been created and fed to us by both our government and the media (a significant socialization agent in today’s America). This became extremely apparent to me while living overseas. I actually have developed a habit that if I see an interesting story in American media I seek out two foreign sources to understand the entire issue. Typically American media leave a lot of information out that is relevant to the the topic, which in turn effects attitudes held. Some sources are worse than others.
Americans tend to take for granted the world they live in because they have no basis for comparison. They live in an individualistic society that is overwhelmed with product choices and standards of living almost incomprehensible to those in non-European cultures. They’ve never lived in war zones, never needed humanitarian relief from international organizations or nations, and quite honestly don’t know how to control the economy they have created that is now capable of devastating the world.