If a distinguished commencement speaker were to come to Binghamton, I imagine they’d say something along these lines: “As your profession is reduced to the classical conditioning of a punch clock ping, fear not that your marketable skills will soon be outsourced, automated and otherwise marginalized to the confines of policies and procedures befitting Hobbesian social contract theory. I urge, no, dare you to seize the day, follow your dreams and let evolution take its course.”
“Congratulations, Class of [insert graduation year raised to the gas mileage of your 1997 Ford Taurus, add the net of wages collected as a minimum wage jockey after drinks, textbooks and more drinks, multiply by the residual value of romantic conquests predicted and the underwhelming reality of said conquests (minus that year you were “exclusive”), divide by the weighted average of cc’s hemorrhaged from your entry level indetu — err — junior associate position, leaving you with the marginal difference of yet another graduation]. May your futures be rich with fashionable debt and the promise of inspirational platitudes for many years to come!”
Perhaps this commentary is misplaced, a projection of my own disillusionment with institutions of higher education, love and the nature of hedonic adaptation. In my time as an opinion columnist, I have taken great precautions to act with journalistic integrity by acknowledging bias and removing it wherever possible. This is not one of those columns, but instead a brief address of this present (or at least relatable) cynical attitude among college graduates, many of whom will negotiate personal, emotional and financial challenges transitioning into adulthood.
A philosopher by the name Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” There is only so much we can do to control fate in an uncertain world, but we do control our reactions. My hope is that each of us develop the faculty of mind to embrace uncertainty through full intention, building faith tempered by reason in all facets and stages of life.
In a digital age when reputations are irreparably damaged with little more than the click of a button, every word in print is a forthright expression of who we are and what we believe. There is no hiding behind a byline; publishing is a leadership framework by default.
It takes conviction to express what may not be well received, or worse, not heard at all. It takes charisma to participate in opposing viewpoints, identify key problems and raise the level of discourse without polarizing its many faces. And it takes patience to accept you may never truly understand the length your words have traveled. In most cases, there has been no other tangible result than the validation of my conscience, the greatest reward of all.
Many of these columns were the compulsion of days at a time, overshadowing work that had self-proclaimed importance in the daily business of getting by. But I continued to chase the feeling, even when the process was painstaking, inefficient and costly. By exploring the intricacies of argument, language and composition, I grew to better understand myself and the purest motivations of intellectual curiosity. It made me feel alive.
The point is this — as your personal and professional lives take shape, when nothing is assured, remember that critical thinking is an act of character and moral integrity. Surround yourself with those who question the underlying assumptions of being and commit to causes that cannot be achieved in your lifetime. Wrestle with the greatest weaknesses of circumstance to lift your soul. Most of all, if you have an opinion ground it in the rigor of doubt. Success will follow the mental strength to examine, compose and operate in abstraction.
In fewer words, practice excellence when incentive points down the path of least resistance. Thank you, and best of luck in all your visions.