For the Class of 2056

How can it possibly be 42 years? But it is! Forty-two years ago today I graduated from Creighton University with a B.A. in Political Science.

I was able to earn enough during the summer to pay my private school tuition. I spent a few nights a week at a mortuary and worked a few funerals for spending money through the school year. Living at home with my parents saved room and board expenses.

How things have changed! I graduated from Creighton with $800 in student loans, all incurred during my freshman year. A little over 70% of this year’s bachelors degree recipients – from public as well as private schools – are leaving with loans totaling $33,000 on average!

That really concerns me! It should concern all of us. Imagine what it’s like to be saddled with that sort of debt right out of the starting gate. Seems to me this is evidence of some pretty serious fraying of the social contract we have with one another in this country.

If I were invited to give a commencement address this year I would, of course, touch on that topic. I would also be strongly influenced by the fact that I would be speaking to my grandchildren’s generation. Forty-two years! I would certainly attempt the impossible in my address – to convince the young graduates just how fast life happens.

If I were speaking to the Creighton Class of 2014 I would undoubtedly reinforce the Ignatian character of their education, especially how they are meant to use their talent and education to serve others and promote justice.

I would find some way to explain – despite how hard we think we each have worked for our degrees – how any one of us who had the opportunity to graduate from Creighton was born on third base and should never think we hit a triple.

From the perspective of 42 years and how fast it all happens, I would remind them of something from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. There Ignatius encourages us to consider our actions or choices from the perspective of our deathbed – then and there, when it’s all over, what will I wish I would have done? I have found this to be an almost infallible guideline for making good choices.

There appears from my vantage point a fraying in the “social contract” we have with fellow Americans. Saddling young people with tens of thousands of dollars of debt is simply unsustainable, if not immoral. Our obstinate denial of the consequences of our consumption of natural resources is unconscionable.

What will the Creighton Class of 2056 hear from their commencement speaker? That day will be here before we know it. Today, 2014, what will we wish we would have done for these future graduates?

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