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Graduation 2012: The best -- or most notable -- advice (so far)

May 14, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • Barnard College graduates listen to President Obama on Tuesday as he delivers their commencement address in New York.
Barnard College graduates listen to President Obama on Tuesday as he delivers… (Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty…)

Dear graduates:

It’s that time of year again: graduation season.  Across the country, the Adults are scrambling to their lecterns and op-ed columns for one last chance to tell you what to do, despite ample evidence over the last couple of years that the Adults have no idea what they’re doing. (Full disclosure: This reporter is a Young Person.)

Some of this advice will be useful. Some of it — such as in 2005, with Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford University (“Connect the dots”) and David Foster Wallace’s at Kenyon College (“This is water”) — will be profound. And some of it will be weirdly mean.

An early winner from this year’s round of lectern-thumping has been Charles Wheelan’s “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You,” which set the bar pretty low as far as success goes. “Your time in fraternity basements was well spent,” he says.

“Research tells us that one of the most important causal factors associated with happiness and well-being is your meaningful connections with other human beings. Look around today,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “Certainly one benchmark of your postgraduation success should be how many of these people are still your close friends in 10 or 20 years.”

Another bit of advice: “Don’t make the world worse.” (Seconded.)

Responding to the popularity of Wheelan’s column, the Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri struck back with “The 10 things they really don’t tell you at graduation.”  Among them: “Next year, you will probably be unemployed, or live in your parents’ basement, or be unemployed and live in your parents’ basement. This is not cruel. It is factual.”

She also points out very sensible things. For example, she says, no one is going to reward you for mundane work and, eventually, “regardless of anything the rampant college hookup culture has taught you, you are suddenly expected to Start Going On Dates.”

President Obama didn’t talk about the dating lives of young graduates — Vanity Fair recently covered that territory by publishing old letters that painted a portrait of the president as a young college nerd in love — but he told the women of Barnard College to “reach high and hope deeply.”

“Don’t just get involved, fight for your seat at the table,” Obama said. “Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”

Mitt Romney, meanwhile, expounded on his faith at the evangelical Liberty University, saying that “trusting in God and in his purpose for each of us makes for more than a good sermon; it makes for a good life.” (The biggest applause line came when Romney declared that “marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman,” not usually a crowd pleaser with this age demographic.)

The award for the most condescending contribution thus far goes to Wall Street Journal contributor Bret Stephens, who declared that “most of you have spent the last few years getting inflated grades in useless subjects in order to obtain a debased degree.”

“Please spare us the self-pity about how tough it is to look for a job while living with your parents,” he wrote. “They're the ones who spent a fortune on your education only to get you back — return-to-sender, forwarding address unknown.”

He then blamed 2012 graduates for being lazy (“probably the least knowledgeable graduating class in history”) -- and totally unlike the West Point war hero he once had for an intern. “Here you are,” he wrote, “21 or 22 years old, claiming to have accomplished feats in past summer internships or at your school newspaper that would be hard to credit in a biography of Walter Lippmann or Ernie Pyle.”

Stephens, by the way, became editor in chief of the Jerusalem Post at the age of 28, so new graduates have a little time to catch up to him and destroy him.

Perhaps the best advice to young people — which is just a spin on the twin themes of trying hard and not worrying too much — came from the Awl’s Choire Sicha a few months ago, when he wrote: “Alternatively, you can just go to a lot of yoga and not worry about any of this at all, that really works too.”

Good luck -- everybody's rooting for you. Except maybe Bret Stephens.

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Job market 2012: Two outlooks for graduates, but which to believe?

national@latimes.com

Twitter.com/mattdpearce

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