Parental Advice to College Graduates

Opinion Editorial
The Tampa Tribune
June 13, 2000

Guest Column
St Petersburg Times
Juen 11, 2000
Print Version
In a recent article for Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, Edwin A. Locke, a
professor of management and psychology at the University of Maryland at
College Park and a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute wrote an
imaginary letter from parents to their children graduating from college.
Professor Locke was concerned about what graduates have fundamentally
learnt in college.

He quotes:

"If you want to lead a successful life, our most urgent advice to you is to
reject your professors’ assaults on reason and individualism. It is your
capacity to reason that is your most sacred possession".


"That two broad themes dominated most of your courses: that human
reason is unreliable and dispensable, and that the individual is subordinate
to the collective."


"You will hear the statement that self-sacrifice is the noblest ideal for which
any American could strive. The truth is exactly the opposite."


I have taught at University of South Florida for thirteen years and believe
that most of my colleagues all over America and I make a positive difference
in our students’ professional and personal lives. This is my less cynical
version of the letter.

Dear John and Jane:

We wish to congratulate you on graduating from college. We hope during
your four years of college that you have learned how to work smart, not
hard. You can work in a minimum wage job for the rest of life for 24 hours a
day, and people will say that you are working hard. But, it is working smart
that is going to make your life better.  We hope that you will use some of
the ideas that your professors taught you in the classrooms or in the
hallways. If they emphasized living a principle-centered life as opposed to a
life centered on self, society, religion, money, spouse, pleasure, friends,
family and you think it is bad advice, forgive us for disagreeing with you.
Principles do not change from situation to situation. If you are centered not
on principles but on individualism, it is going to bring depression and
despair. One of the most common psychological reasons (excluding chemical
imbalances) for depression and anxiety is self-absorption.

If your teachers taught and exhibited compassion, empathy and emotional
intelligence, and you think it was a waste of time, please forgive them!

Your professors taught you not what to think but how to think. What to
think is going to change as time passes by but how to think is a skill that
you have hopefully learnt and will keep on learning.

We hope they also emphasized the importance of free will, a staple and
fundamental principle in most religions of the world. However, we have
been all given a different set of circumstances – our genes, upbringing,
socioeconomic class, race, ethnicity, society, handicaps, looks, chronic
illnesses and yes, relatives. These factors are an integral part of your life.
Ignoring their negative or positive influence on your future is like putting
your head in the sand; but the key to your success is how we use our free
will to go beyond our set of circumstances to lead a content life.

If you want to lead a successful life, be sure that you lead a balanced life –
work, recreation, relationship, friends, religion, time to self, personal growth
and volunteering. Work is an important part of your life, as you will be
spending more than one-third of your waking hours at your job. Why not
enjoy it as opposed to looking forward to the weekend? Find a job you love
that brings joy to you and the people around you!

Be sure that you use your own judgment based on principles in solving
problems. Many times, you will not be able to influence the things that
concern you. You need to accept that and spend your time on working on
things that you can influence. Also, work on making your areas of influence
larger so that you continue to grow. Still there will be situations that you
will not be able to influence, and we hope that you have gained the wisdom
to recognize what you can and cannot influence.

We hope those people who gave the commencement address to you did
reinforce the truth that you take care of yourself first and then the people
around you. Nobody is served by sacrificing yourself for others; it is a sure
way to run ragged and resentful. In the commencements we have
attended, the speakers frequently talk about societal responsibility, but
nowhere as Professor Locke may lead you to believe, did they ask you to do
it at the expense of self!

Self-sacrifice is the most misinterpreted virtue. Self-sacrifice is about
forgiveness and compassion. Forgiveness and compassion are the only road
to inner peace. Maybe it is the "me" syndrome that half the marriages end
in divorce and our children end up as victims. We hope that you will not
perpetuate these myths. As some may lead you to believe otherwise,
considering the good of the society is not any form of communism but an
essential constituent of a civilized society.

Therefore, John and Jane, we want you to hold two ideas as absolutes.
These are not the same two absolutes – reason and individualism, as those
of Professor Locke but at the same time are not polarized to his.

First, use your judgment based on principles and you will not have to
assess and reason every situation on an individual basis.

Second, understand that your life is not just about you. It is about you and
the interconnectedness we share with all people of this world. If you find
any situation in your life, whether it your wedding or a death of a loved one,
a birth of a child or a fatal disease you just found out about, your job or a
night-out with friends, it is the interconnectedness with other people
involved you desire the most.

We are social animals and nobody until date has denied that except for a
few serial killers. Next time while you are going to work in your car, think
about the number of people involved in making it possible – from the
assembler in the plant to the supplier of tiny car-radio switches, the
mechanic in your neighborhood to the dealer who sold you the car, the
people who designed the road you are traveling on to those who put the
road signs. As you go through the list further, you will not stop wondering
how interconnected we really are.

Do not idolize individuals whether it is Gandhi – a proponent of socialist
freedom through self-sacrifice and persuasion, Lenin - a proponent of
communism through collectivism and revolution, or Ayn Rand – a proponent
of capitalism based on individualism and reason.

All individuals have flaws and they may even violate the very principles they
profess. Blind following of such individuals can lead to disappointments and
tragic consequences. Just look at the case of Ayn Rand, a symbol of
capitalism. She is the same person whose own desire to denounce Soviet
Union (her birthplace) atrocities made her a puppet of McCarthy, a modern
day witch-hunter and as close to a dictator independent-America has seen.
These are contrary to the two absolute ideas of individualism and reason
that Professor Locke, a senior writer at the Ayn Rand Institute, leads you to
believe. But, through such actions during the McCarthy era, was Ayn Rand
meeting her own individualistic needs and was she reasoning that
participating in a witch-hunt at any cost was all right? We bet our every
capitalistic dollar we spent on your education!

Love and Welcome to the Adult World, Mom and Dad.

Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Franklin Covey
Co, 1989.
Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, Bantam Books, 1997.
Susan Jeffers, Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway, Fawcett Books, 1992.
Dalai Lama & Howard Cutler, The Art of Happiness, Riverhead Books, 1998.

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