Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Blunt Commencement Keynote Speech

"You might be screwed. Not just you (but) your whole generation — in some important respects — is getting screwed. “You are projected to be the first generation to face lower lifetime earnings than your parents.” 
Grads’ last lesson 

Speakers urge the UO Class of 2012 to rise above hard times

By Diane Dietz

he University of Oregon Class of 2012 is, alternatively, “blessed” and “screwed,” according to graduation speakers who cajoled about 3,500 of the 5,000-student class who participated
 in Monday’s commencement exercises at Matt Knight Arena.

 “You might be screwed,” said state legislator and keynote speaker Jefferson Smith, prompting a roar of laughter and applause to ring the basketball arena. “Not just you (but) your whole generation — in some important respects — is getting screwed. “You are projected to be the first generation to face lower lifetime earnings than your parents,” said Smith, a UO alumnus and Portland mayoral candidate. “Many of you are looking for jobs in what economists say, in the past five or six years, is the toughest job market since the Great Depression.

“Your generation faces the
 greatest wealth disparities since before World War II,” Smith added. “There are real questions about whether the systems of our democracy are in positions to solve our biggest problems and address the public interest.” But Smith suggested that the route to getting “unscrewed” is to redefine success beyond social mobility and material wealth.
“If we define our success by the station that we reach, we can’t win. But if we define success in the movements in which we participate, in what we stand for, in what we work toward, we can’t lose,” he said.
 (End quoted article)

It was refreshing to hear his painfully blunt assessment, where other speakers, tried to gloss it over, saying pay no attention to those naysayers during tough economic times. Keynore speaker Jefferson Smith did not put lipstick on the pig, or dance around the elephant in the room. To just come out & say it outright, was good medicine, I thought. Let's not pretend these are not troubled times. 

I sat in the arena for the Commencement ceremony, with my own perspective & reality check. 
The main wage earner, my husband will officially lose his job in the next few months. 
My Mortgage holder, GMAC just sent notice that they are filing for bankruptcy. 
My own low paying job is on a pay freeze for a year. So not even that . 10 cent an hour pay raise for the whole year!
Our son worked his way through college.

To put it in yet another reality check, look at these details:
• The University of Oregon just approved up a tuition hike:
$9,310 a year (for in-state undergraduates). 
$28,648 for out-of-state tuition. 

• In 1970 In-State tuition was $408 per year
$1,407 for out-of-state tuition

• Congress just doubled student loan interest rates 

So although this was a very happy celebration, there is both an underlying & overshadowing reality check of the times we are in. On one hand, College is a great place to be to ride out the economic downturn, on the other hand, they keep upping the ante of debt & cost to attend college, where grads start out deeper in debt, into murky waters of the current job world. 
In the department ceremony, post grad plans were announced, and about 1/3 had already landed jobs before graduation. But let's face it, the keynote speaker nailed it. 

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