Most commencement speeches will bombard its graduates with empty phases like “you are the future.” Virginia Tech tells you to “invent the future.” We hear them, we read them, and it passes as a “banal platitude”, to borrow David Foster Wallace’s terminology. But, to our detriment, it is also the simplest, most profound truth that we never seem to learn.
We are the future.
We too often think of the future as something that is going to happen to us. The fact, the reality, is that we are the future, here and now, and we are creating what we think “happens to us.” We get angry with people who cheat the system (e.g. Wall Street), but this is learned behavior. This is not innate. These people were simply “working” the system. We get upset and think “how could they… people’s lives were at stake,” but we do the same thing everyday, just on a smaller scale, and nobody really gets hurts. We are no different. We work the department, work the professor/ class, work the part-time job… no harm done, right? We sugarcoat it and call ourselves industrious, diligent, and assertive. Or we could just be an opportunist. It’s all based on intent. Were you thinking about yourselves? In relation to others? When we grow up in a system that requires us to “work” the system to our benefit…
Why are we so surprised at the state of our world?
From the very beginning, in school, we perpetuate this behavior. We think that, as adults, we will outgrow it, but why assume such a thing? If our educational system is navigated by “working the system,” we have only habituated ourselves to act this way and carry it into our “real world.” We get angry with professors who don’t “teach.” Why? They were students once, doing the same thing that we now do, and as professors, they must continue working the system to get along. Teaching just becomes another part of the game. There is no larger picture, and certainly no progression on the scale that it could be. Moreover, it won’t go away… because if you don’t work the system, someone else will, and you’ll get screwed.
The “tragedy of the commons” is what I see. We live in our small worlds… everyone wanting his or her piece of the pie. We focus on grades, levels, AP, IB, GPA, salaries, jobs, relationships, promotions, retirement, etc… but do we notice the commons? No, we notice the competition. But, we say, we need a measure of comparison, right? Perhaps, but what are the consequences? Where there is a comparison, there is a competition. Where there is a competition, there will be a winner and a loser. By all means necessary… be the winner, because you don’t want to be the loser. This is what our educational system teaches us. What does that get us?
Don’t be surprised by our future… we created it. If you want to know what’s in store, look around and observe how people act, and by what means do they reach their ends. You’ll start to get an idea of what to expect.
On a lighter note… relevant words of inspiration… “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” -Reese Bobby (Talladega Nights)