Dear Graduates: Hillary Clinton Has Got You All Wrong

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Dear Graduates,

You are about to enter a society that already thinks youíre spoiled and lazy. In a poll this month, 83% of Americans agreed your generation acts even more entitled than the last generation did, ten years ago. Senator Hillary Clinton said your instant gratification culture has led you to think "work is a four-letter word." Even as she apologized to her daughter for saying it, she added another dig—she expressed fear that you arenít ready to compete in the new globalized world.

Iím worried youíre listening to these bozos. So many Baby Boomers are sneering at you, they might get in your heads.

If your generation were as apathetic as rumored to be, weíd expect you to work less, go to college less, and fall behind your peers in other countries. But the opposite is true. Kids today are working harder than Baby Boomers did when they were your age. More go to college and more are working—and an amazing number of you are doing both, simultaneously working nearly full-time while carrying a full courseload at college.

I imagine this might be news to you, so I will share the facts. In the last 35 years, the proportion of kids who attend college has jumped 50%. Back in 1970, when the peak swell of Baby Boomers was 20 to 24 years old, there were 2.7 million of them attending college. That number pales to you guys. Over 6 million of you are in college right now. Among all countries of the world, America ranks No. 1 in sending kids to college.

That alone wouldnít be so impressive, if you were using college to get out of working, the way Baby Boomers used college to avoid the draft. But youíre not. When Baby Boomers were your age, 68% of them held jobs of some sort. Today, 75% of you have jobs. Not summer jobs—Iím not even counting those.

If so many of you are in college, and so many of you are working, then inevitably lots of you are doing both. Sixty percent of todayís college students hold down jobs while theyíre enrolled. Hereís where it gets scary. Because when Baby Boomers imagine a working student, they figure youíre clocking a few hours a week at the library checkout counter. But a third of college students with jobs are working full-time (or nearly so). I call these busy student-workers Big Macs. Like the double-decker sandwich with two hamburgers, these students are doubling up on class and McJobs.

Iím not really sure how itís possible to attend college full-time while also holding down a full-time job, so I went to Los Angeles this week to meet some of you who live this way. Sara Lopez was one. This petite Big Mac has been taking classes full-time at Santa Monica College, while also working as a cashier at the UCLA hospital cafeteria. On Tuesdays and Thursdays she only goes to school. On Saturdays and Sundays she works a full day. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday she pulls a double shift of school then work. This 21-year-old gets no days off. But she doesnít seem stressed, and she doesnít complain. She has a smile for everyone. Some critics might say Sara Lopez "lacks independence," because she lives with her parents. But she adores her family, who immigrated from Oaxaca before she was born. They own a little blue house in Mid-City Los Angeles, with a pet chicken in the backyard who lays an egg every morning.

You might wonder why Sara Lopez works so hard, especially if she lives at home, which cuts down expenses. But Sara still has tuition and textbooks and car insurance and cell phone bills to pay. While her parents probably could cover it, Sara says "I donít want to be a bigger burden than I already am."

If the truth about how hard you work ever gets out, the Baby Boomers will probably hit back with an attack on how youíre fixated on your own success, while they were altruistic and idealistic. Donít let them get away with this lie either. A whopping 22% of you are doing unpaid volunteer work. Thatís the highest percentage ever.

If they persist in their criticism, tell them to call Andres Paniagua, another Big Mac I met. Heís one of the 600,000 of you who has served in Iraq. Of course you probably wonít be able to reach this former Marine, because he works full-time at an inner city school, goes full-time to college in West L.A., and mentors his church youth group.

If the Boomersí opinion of you is not based in truth, then itís reasonable to wonder why it persists, so pervasively. Well, those blue jeans slung low on your hips have not helped. Those glimpses of butt cleavage have led to some prejudices. With an iPod in one ear and a cell phone over the other, you donít look the part of an eager Horatio Alger.

When you hear this criticism from old folks, what theyíre really saying is they donít trust you with our future. Theyíre not ready to give you the keys to the Mustang.

You remember when Mom first gave you the keys to her car? You were so jittery you probably couldnít tell she was nervous too. And itís the same now. Recognize we all get hesitant at this point. Donít be afraid to take the wheel and go where you need to go.