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Commence to Humility

My initial thought was to include Thomas Sowell’s latest column in one of my “Some Links” posts.  But this column – which I first learned of from Mark Perry – is so good that I here give it the single billing that it deserves.  A slice (but do read the whole column):

Two themes seem to dominate Commencement speeches. One is shameless self-advertising by people in government, or in related organizations supported by the taxpayers or donors, saying how nobler it is to be in “public service” than working in business or other “selfish” activities.

In other words, the message is that it is morally superior to be in organizations consuming output produced by others than to be in organizations which produce that output. Moreover, being morally one-up is where it’s at.

The second theme of many Commencement speakers, besides flattering themselves that they are in morally superior careers, is to flatter the graduates that they are now equipped to go out into the world as “leaders” who can prescribe how other people should live.

In other words, young people, who in most cases have never had either the sobering responsibility and experience of being self-supporting adults, are to tell other people — who have had that responsibility and that experience for years — how they should live their lives.

I have always hated – even when I was still a college student – the “go out and change the world” advice given by commencement speakers.  Not only does this advice mistakenly presume that the world is in need of wholesale change, it foolishly flatters people still in their 20s that they know enough to effect such change wisely.  In fact, of course, not even older people with lots of solid, real-world experience know enough to be trusted with the power or the charge to “change the world.”

Here and here is the graduation speech that I would give.