Monday, April 17, 2006

A professor's advice to graduating students: Let your attitude be closer to that of an immigrant Mexican yard-worker than of a French bureaucrat

Everything, they say, is relative. Half a million French youths on the barricades of their privileged entitlements, united in an unembarrassed, indeed self-righteous, defense of economic stagnation, have given me much needed perspective. … French protestors carried a huge banner: "We Will Never Surrender" (in English, especially for CNN). Bracket the fact that surrender has been France's national outdoor sport for two centuries. What are they refusing to surrender to — apart from common sense, I mean?

I couldn't have spent four decades as a humanities professor without gaining fluency in the sclerotic cliches of a soft left rhetoric. But it appears that in France, the mainstream political spectrum actually believes it. The place is positively crawling with time-warped Socialists who still quaintly believe in Marxism.
Thus speaketh John V. Fleming, Princeton's Louis W. Fairchild '24 professor of English.
Though its ostensible motives had to do with employment, the Paris demonstrations were more closely affiliated in spirit to what we recently witnessed in Damascus and Karachi than what we saw in Los Angeles. Theodore Dalrymple has argued in his remarkable essays that Islamic truculence, including that of some highly visible European Muslim youth, is born not of strength and confidence but of fearful disquiet and perceived inferiority, weakness and vulnerability. In general, similar anxieties command the French "Youth Employment" protests.

What we laughingly call the "real world" can be a scary place. But … I have a few words of advice for graduates.… Do something serious, useful, daring and fun. Travel around, and use the foreign language we helped you learn. Invent something. Start a company. Teach something wholesome to somebody who needs it. Revel in your individuality and personal enterprise in a way that satisfies you by helping our needy world. Take some big risks, and fail a few times. Let your attitude be closer to that of an immigrant Mexican yard-worker than of a French bureaucrat. This country doesn't owe you a living, but it affords you unequalled opportunities to make a decent one. Work really hard. Create the wealth of the commonwealth.

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