Opinion » Bill Cope


A message of hopeless for those degreeless


I have prepared a number of commencement addresses over the years--for high-school graduations, college graduations, even one for a kindergarten graduation. That I never delivered any of them is no fault of mine. I was ready. The speeches were ready. My delivery was ready (I practiced in front of a mirror until I could do six minutes without scratching myself.)

I also let it be known that any honorary doctorates, pecuniary honorariums, expense reimbursements, gift certificates or coupons for "buy one/get one free" lunch deals I received would be entirely at the discretion of whichever institutions saw fit to ask me to contribute my words of wisdom to those young adventurers about to embark on a new phase of their lives.

Tragically, I was not asked. Out of all those institutions charged with preparing all those young adventurers for all those new phases, not a damn one of them saw fit to bring me and my words of wisdom to the podium.

And don't tell me my words of wisdom aren't just as wise as some of the people they do ask. For instance, this spring a University of Idaho satellite campus in Idaho Falls had Larry Craig deliver their commencement address. Larry Craig! I don't know what his words of wisdom to those young adventurers were, but I'll bet one of them wasn't "Minneapolis."

Anyway, I'm sick of trying to get the attention of whoever it is that lines up commencement speakers. So this year, I'm addressing mine to those who won't be graduating, won't be sitting through any hooty-snooty graduation ceremonies, and with the way things are going, won't be enrolled in any institution of learning higher other than the ones they can still ride to on a yellow bus. And believe me, there are a lot more of them than there are graduates. In fact, I don't even know yet where I'm going to give my address, because I don't think they'll all fit in Taco Bell Arena.

To all nongraduates and their families, I welcome you to this noncommencement ceremony of 2013. You should know this is the first such observance ever held in the annals of non-academia. For whatever reason, those either associated or unassociated with even the earliest known universities could see no value in commemorating the fact that so many young nonscholars did not attend those universities, or if they did, did not stick around long enough to finish. Truly, you will find no record of an event such as this either inside or outside the archival halls of Cambridge, Oxford--wherever.

And frankly, we wouldn't be holding this ceremony now, nor would I be delivering this noncommencement address, if not for the reality that, of the thousands upon thousands of young Idaho adults not graduating this fine June day, many of you would not be here, if you'd had your way. I'm convinced many, maybe even most, of you would prefer to be graduating, had only things worked out differently for you and your families.

Were we living in a country that actually valued education in deed as well as rhetoric--that did whatever it takes to make higher education more affordable rather than less--that was not continually stripping the financial foundations from middle-class parents who might have helped you more if only they weren't struggling to hold onto their homes and jobs and, indeed, their very presence in the middle class--were we living in that sort of country, where college graduates were as common as college aspirants, you'd likely not be here today. Instead, you might be walking across a broad stage where one professor is acknowledging your achievement and another is handing you your sheepskin.

You may not know this, but we used to be that sort of country. There was a time, and not so long ago, when state and national leaders supported our institutions--when prospective students could be real students without facing tuitions so daunting and loans so steep that the only ones who dared attend were either the sons and daughters of wealth, or those willing to put themselves into crippling debt for much of their natural life spans--when phony online universities weren't hawking false dreams in endless television ads, all designed to get their hands on that Sallie Mae money.

As it is now, however, only one in 10 Idaho high-schoolers will graduate from college. In this demanding, modern reality, our state slides further and further backward on every education scale available. As organized labor is vilified and crushed--as manufacturing work bleeds out to offshore hellholes where the poorest of the world's poor will do anything demanded of them for crumbs--as more blue-collar jobs are filled by machines and more menial jobs are filled by desperate immigrants--the day is coming soon when even that minimum wage you're making now may slip beyond your grasp.

So sally forth, young nonalums, and commence your years of drudgery. Scrimp and scrape and scratch out what little you can get in that dreary future awaiting you. But as your worried days go by, forget not to give due credit to those who forged this bleak new world using nothing but their lawyers and political lackeys to accomplish the task--those powerful overlords who gain the most from your powerlessness--those with riches enough to enrich themselves even further with your desperation. You know who they are.

One more thing: Please, do curb your envy for those who aren't here today, but are instead crossing that broad stage for their sheepskin. Keep in mind, most of them are boarding the same leaky boat as you.