Dear Class of 2008
(Ed. I have nothing to add. This is brilliant.)
By Melissa Harris-Lacewell Originally Published on The Root:
Sorry we’ve screwed things up. Now, suck it up and lead.
I know that everyone is saying, “Congratulations.” We say it because we are proud of you and what you have accomplished. I want to say something else; something that others may not say. “I am sorry.”
We have a lot of reasons to apologize.
We have taught you to think of education as a program, formula or code that you can crack. We have valued grades and scores more than learning. We have forgotten to teach you that all understanding begins with wonder and with following unexpected discovery in unknown directions. We have tried to stomp the wonder out of you by getting you to choose a track and stick with it. We have asked you to excel in every endeavor and to avoid anything that might diminish your record of excellence. When we rewarded you only for following all of our rules and not for making any of your own, we did more to close your minds than to open them.
I am sorry that we have taught you to value economic success over passionate engagement with your work. As educated Americans you have choices that many people in the rest of the world do not have. Even with the vast inequalities and deepening economic crisis in our country, your diploma or degree places you among the most privileged in a privileged country. But instead of teaching you to follow your passions and to serve others, we have encouraged you to follow the money.
Most people in the world are poor. Most have inadequate educations. Most will be forced to work jobs that pay the bills and starve their spirits. As you graduate, you may be able to escape this fate, but only if you are brave enough to follow your passions even when the economic rewards are not completely clear.
People like me saw our grandmothers scrub floors and mend other people’s clothes to feed their children in the Jim Crow South. Or we saw our grandfathers worked to an early grave by jobs that they hated. We wanted to save you from that fate. But we forgot that our grandmothers and grandfathers had dreams, just not the choice to follow them. Our advice to measure yourself by a paycheck instead of by the love of your work may mean that, for you, work will still just amount to a way to pay the bills — far bigger bills than our ancestors had. We are sorry for teaching you to trade your soul for a paycheck.
I am sorry that we punished you for making mistakes. We forgot to teach you that mistakes are the path of greatness. If you fall in love, don’t be afraid of the break-up, and if you break-up, wallow in the exquisite agony of heartbreak. If you ask a stupid question in class or on the job, listen to the answer. If you are unwilling to make mistakes, you cannot live your best life, you cannot be humble, or find your passion, or be productive, or be of service. (more…)