It’s May, the season of college graduation ceremonies, when the college careers of seniors terminate at what are paradoxically called “commencement” exercises.
A great deal of attention will be paid to those invited to speak at these ceremonies, even though most of what they have to say will be rich in platitudes and eminently forgettable. In fact, this year’s crop of commencement speakers will probably be better remembered for those who did not speak than for those who did. Ayan Ali Hirsi, Christine Lagarde, Condoleesa Rice, Charles Murray, and Robert Birgeneau are among a growing list of interesting people who have been “disinvited,” or otherwise pressured to stay away, in a misguided campaign to shield undergraduates from viewpoints that might make them “uncomfortable.”
But for those interested in the state of education at America’s colleges, it may be less important to listen to what the elders have to say to the students than to what the students themselves have to say.
Two Ivy League student essays are worth examining, if only to note their starkly contrasting visions. One is an optimistic picture of a world in which success is possible to all, provided only that they are equipped with the right values. The other is a grim picture where victimhood is inescapable, no matter how many blessings one receives. It may be coincidence, but the fact that the first is written by a freshman, and the second by a senior, suggests a troubling explanation: the modern university may be deadening the spirit of its young charges. Continue reading