Editors Note: This story originally appeared on TomDispatch.
Graduates of the class of 2007, close your eyes.
No kidding. That’s my advice in a nutshell.
Okay, take a last look around if you want, you who entered college in September 2003, when it still wasn’t apparent to most Americans that our President had crash-landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, to give his famed May Day speech declaring “major combat operations in Iraq” at an end.
Look at your world just a little longer. As on that sunny September day when you arrived here almost four years ago, it’s another lovely day as you prepare to depart and, at a glance, the world–the American world anyway–doesn’t seem that much the worse for wear. Okay, the price of a barrel of oil essentially doubled in those four years, as did the price of a gallon of gas at the pump; the Democrats retook Congress; Iraq descended into the charnel house of history, into what was already being termed back then, in a bow to the Vietnam War, the “q-word” (for quagmire); newspapers began losing young readers to the Internet as if into a black hole; and the Bush Administration, touted in 2003 as the “most disciplined” in anyone’s memory, has fallen into belligerent disarray; but, hey, the stock market is at a high-water mark, the Boston Red Sox are leading the American League East, lawyers are suing, doctors are medicating, and brokers are brokering away more or less as usual.
And here you are in your serried ranks, your parents nearby, your school’s president and various deans, as well as distinguished faculty, arrayed before you on this stage in impressive gowns and tasseled caps. Today is a much-awaited moment for you, the culmination of years of work, just as graduation days like this have been for those who preceded you.
The campus, this balmy afternoon, seems hardly changed from four years ago. The same gentle carpet of grass, green with spring, dotted on its distant edges with beds of tulips, surrounded the graduating class of ’03–and probably the class of ’66, the year I sat through one of these ceremonies. The dorms you slept in are behind us; the dining hall you ate so many unmemorable meals in is just over that hill, which I have no doubt you climbed grudgingly on many wind-chilled winter mornings. At least some of the classrooms you did your learning in, housed in solemn gray stone (as monuments to timeless knowledge should be), flank us. The Greek-style columns of your library with its million-plus volumes can just be glimpsed through the distant trees.
Yes, look around. All is as it should be. Everything we can see and everything we know is here — all of it normal, all of it fit for a graduation speech. Fit for you.
In the years just after I graduated from college, the much praised (and maligned) 1960s, the young were said to believe in a single aphorism: “Never trust anyone over thirty.” I must admit I never heard such a thing myself, but then, as now, the media has a way of knowing what we think better than we do. I read it, ergo it’s so.