Opinion » Bill Cope

Melba Music's Toast

And other ponderables for the Class of '10


I prepared the following speech in May after learning that the Melba school board had decided to drop all of its secondary music programs. No more band. No more chorus. Not in Melba.

I then called the district office over there and notified some nice lady that I was available to deliver the commencement address. She said she'd pass it on up the food chain, but I never heard anything back. By now, I assume the Class of '10 has graduated and already sent their caps and gowns back to the rental outfit.

I hate like hell to see a good commencement address go to waste, though. So I present it to you, my readers. And if you take from it the inspiring message that you can be anything you dream of being, you got the wrong damn message. Better read it again, and pay attention this time.

Congratulations Melba seniors, and Goooooo Mustangs!!!

But seriously, graduates, you're getting out just in time, did you know that? Especially you band and choir kids. You may well be the last of your kind. Maybe at some point in the future, you can sit your little brothers and sisters down and tell them what a bittersweet blessing it was to have played the last Sousa march or sung in the last spring concert ever performed in Melba.

Or maybe it's better they never find out what they missed. And let us pray there is no nascent Mozart or Wynton Marsalis or Joan Sutherland coming up through the Melba school system. What a tragedy that is, eh? Talent with no place to go?

It was nothing personal, kids. The school board was only doing what it was told had to be done. The State Legislature informed them--along with every other school district in Idaho--that sacrifices had to be made. An overall 7.5 percent sacrifice, actually, according to the boys who run the state. They left it up to the individual districts to decide where that pound of flesh was coming from.

So your district ripped the throat out of its music programs. Meridian is lopping off chunks of teacher salaries and bus routes. Undoubtedly, there will be a few districts that shave off their girls' sports, while others dump the drama department and the art classes. The Boise system recently eliminated 60 positions, and the slashery has just begun. Another year like this, and students might be expected to provide their own lighting and heat when they come to class.

If you've followed the news like your social studies teacher told you to, you'll know this isn't just an Idaho problem. There's hardly a state left that hasn't watched their school budgets turned into the thinnest of gruel. It's a damn bad time to be a youngster, let me tell you. Particularly if you're a youngster with visions of accomplishment dancing in your head. I can well imagine employers of the future looking at your resumes and saying, "Oh dear, you attended public schools during the Bush Recession? Why, Child, you might as well have never gone to school at all!"

Now, it's always possible you will make up for in college what you were screwed out of in public schools. If you can afford to go, that is. I'm sure you're aware our universities are stuck in the same mud hole public schools are in, only they can do something public schools can't. It's called "tuition," and apparently, there's no limit to how high it can be raised.

You can borrow the money to educate yourself, of course. You might even get the loan paid off by the time your own children reach college age ... assuming the career you dreamed of having wasn't shipped out to some country with a better-educated work force. And given what's happening to America's middle class, the day's coming when the countries with a more educated work force than ours will be about all of 'em.

It's depressing, but not for everyone. Say you happen to come from a family of America's wealthiest--the Top 20-Centers, let us call them--things are looking sweeter all the time. If you track it back ... oh, say ... 30 years­--maybe to about the time Ronald Reagan got his tax cuts for the rich (which, incidently, marks the beginning of that rapid decline in this country's educational opportunities)--you will be pleased to know that you and your upper-crust mates have increased your share of America's total wealth from 80 to 85 percent. Figure the top 1 percent--the super rich--owns about half of that, while the bottom 80th percentile has to scrap over whatever's left: the 15 percent that sticks to the bottom of the barrel.

Even better: While everyone else's income has decreased in real terms, income has increased dramatically at the top of this lop-sided pyramid--one of the benefits of naming your own bonuses, I suppose. And then when George Bush piled on more tax cuts for the rich, the good life's only gotten gooder. Bigger houses, bigger boats, bigger cars, bigger vacations. Hell, you can even afford a lobbyist firm or two to make sure those tax breaks keep a-coming!

But let's get back to your reality, kids. All of that rosy outlook stuff applies only if you belong to the Top 20-Centers. And it's not very likely any of them would be graduating from Melba High School, is it? The rest of you are sitting out here in the desert, waiting to see what gets cut next--from your schools, from your children, from your lives--and listening to your leaders drone on about how wrong it is to raise taxes on those who do the producing in this great land of ours--even if all they seem to be producing anymore is a land of lost blessings and disappearing opportunities.

Best of luck, Mustangs. You're gonna need it.