To the columnist who wrote to the class of 2012
Dear Bret Stephens,
Thank you for your non-congratulations to the members of the class of 2012. Since you asked me to, I will indeed spare you self-pity about graduating. And I will tell you why I can spare you:
You wrote that we will be moving in with our parents after graduation. You wrote, based on an experience you once had giving one (1) interview, that knowledge counts, and we, the Class of 2012, don’t even know who the President of the United States was in 1956. You wrote that we’re in worse shape than our peers “in places like Ireland, France, India and Spain,” where people speak several languages—”Unlike you,” you wrote. You wrote that our resumés are endless advertisements for ourselves with things like “internships” and “school papers” (I think you and I may have a different opinion of what a CV is, but I digress). You wrote that our “generation has an especially bad case” of comforming “because your mass conformism is masked by the appearance of mass nonconformism.”
Here is what I have to write to you:
“Many of you have been reared on the cliché that the purpose of education isn’t to stuff your head with facts but to teach you how to think. Wrong.” See, I disagree, Mr. Stephens. I think it’s right. I think what we’ve been doing here is learning how to think. To do things like see the flaws in arguments such as yours. To point out that saying “many of you have been reared on the cliché” is actually to invent a reality that doesn’t really exist because you thought it made for a more convincing column. To note that citing one interview and one intern as proof is incredibly misleading. To say that just because you assert that we have “mass conformism masked by the appearance of mass nonconformism” doesn’t make it true.
Mr. Stephens, I am not your straw man. I am not moving back in with my parents to live aimlessly after graduation. I do, in fact, speak several languages. I have been bombarded with columns just like yours since I was a first-year. Columns about the uselessness of my education and the horrors of the economy and how horribly, hopelessly lost I’m supposed to be. About how my peers and I are allegedly pitying ourselves.
But I look around my graduating class, Mr. Stephens, and I don’t see self pity. I don’t see the picture that you painted in your piece. I see people who are going to fix the problems that your generation, not ours, created. I see future doctors and lawyers, investment bankers and consultants, writers, and teachers. Mostly, however, I see people who know. Who know because they were part of a diverse and dynamic student body, because they have a willingness to adapt to ever-changing times, but also because they—we—received an education that taught us that it is highly commendable to take time to think about the sort of people we want to be, not the people a columnist who does not care to know us tells us that we are.
And by the way, Mr. Stephens: Dwight Eisenhower was the president in 1956. He was also president of Columbia University. I like to think he’d have offered our class his heartiest congratulations.
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