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?