Kids are often very clever, as IQ tends to peak about the same time their testosterone does. They just haven't the time to digest history, or how tactics relate to strategy in human groupings (often contrary to stated principles). So I was really impressed by Erica Goldson's valedictory speech given for a high school somewhere in America (Coxsackie-Athens High):
… I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. … I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling …
I had brothers and a sister, and saw 4 years of high school valedictory speeches in a row, and learned that the eggheads who got straight A's were the trite, parent-pleasing dorks we all thought they were. I was class president a couple years, and remember giving standard speeches on how our bake sale to end poverty was really successful that year. In short, young adults are banal when asked to say something big and important.
This speaker, however, is wrestling with what should be the primary issue in every young person's life: what gives my life meaning? Victor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning is one of my favorites. It's a question that many never address directly but always wonder. I'm sure that whatever she does with her life, she'll be a mensch.
In contrast, the New York Times reports about a young man from a gifted school in NYC who lambasted the disparate impact in standardized tests (at Elena Kagan's alma mater, no less). His valedictory speech got a standing ovation from the school's faculty, which should be no surprise because seniors submit graduation speeches and a faculty committee selects one to be read. The faculty was congratulating itself on the bold idea that that geometry and antonym tests are biased (but not against Asians for some reason). The speech is filled with bromides and sanctimony ("We are playing God, and we are losing", "I apologize if this is not the speech you wanted to hear"). The kid is a tool for academic establishment cliches, and unfortunately, is being told that he's precociously authentic and wise. The line, "this is not the speech you wanted to hear" was chosen among many as the speech they wanted to hear, and no one seems to have noticed.
Read the girl's whole speech. It's not really profound--her classmates probably won't be great artists or musicians, 'slave' is a bit of a stretch--but it's genuine, and brings me back to what I was thinking, or should have thought, when I was 17. She quotes Mencken, and notes her 10th grade English teacher. It would never make the New York Times. Her parents should be very proud.
Update. Commenter Lance notes:
agree that most commencement speeches are laudatory BS, but the girl's speech is pathetic.
"The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it".
The girl's speech is the usual "against the establishment" type drivel that just because they are not mentioned in high school speeches very often does not mean her insights are particularly profound.
Ack! I skimmed, and clearly didn't see that. I think it's important to know that 'industry' has no big coordinated strategy in some kind of capital-labor Marxian battle, and profit maximizing firms really want to hire thoughtful, bright, energetic, creative, people.