Anna Quindlen on the Fortune of Today’s Graduates

by Jamison Koehler on June 12, 2011

I am a long-time fan of Anna Quindlen.  Here, courtesy of The New York Times, is an excerpt from her recent commencement address at Grinnell College at which she was in typically fine form:

Your parents, proudly here today, and their parents before them, perhaps proudly here today, understood a simple equation for success:  your children would do better than you had.  Ditch digger to cop to lawyers to judge.

We’re now supposed to apologize to you because it seems that that’s no longer how it works, that you won’t inherit the S.U.V., which was way to big, or the McMansion that was way too big, or the corner office that was way too big.

But I suggest that this is a moment to consider what “doing better” really means.  If you are part of the first generation of Americans who genuinely see race and ethnicity as attributes, not stereotypes, will you not have done better than we did?  If you are part of the first generation of Americans with a clear understanding that gay men and lesbians are entitled to be full citizens of this country with all its rights, will you not have done better than we did?  If you are part of the first generation of Americans who assume women merit full equality instead of grudging acceptance, will you not have done better than we did?

Now compare this with an excerpt from Bill Clinton’s commencement address, this one at New York University and also reported in The New York Times:

You should strive to find happiness every day and not believe that it comes at the end of the journey.

Hmmm. Journey, not destination. Interesting. I’m thinking he started off with something about “commencement” being the beginning not the end, blah, blah, blah, but concluded that that had already been done to death.

4 Comments on “Anna Quindlen on the Fortune of Today’s Graduates

  1. That “Ditch digger to cop …” line makes me cringe.

  2. I’m with George.
    But then I’m from the first generation to revere those hearty souls who dig ditches for a living.

  3. George and DA: I like how she puts judge at the very top of the hierarchy. But you’ve got to like the rest of what she has to say.

  4. George is a ditch-digger wannabe.

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