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Advice for Grads


June 12, 1989

HERE is a sampling of what this year's commencement speakers are saying to college graduates: Mike Wallace, CBS newsman, at the University of Pennsylvania:

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I was in Ann Arbor a month ago, talking with a group of graduate journalism fellows .... They told me that today's undergraduates and graduate students want to get involved, are getting involved with something beyond themselves. They can be touched, they can be moved, and that they want to be.

``Idealism?'' I asked. ``Public service?''

``Well, maybe that's just not it,'' was the approximate answer. ``But the young men and women are turned off by what they see of the Exxons and the Milkens, the Jim Wrights and the Ollie Norths. And they want to do something about it....''

So, as I said, chances are - if you're any good at all, and lucky, you're going to do well - financially. But there is so much more to life than that. Simply put: Do well - but do good, too.

Oh, I know, we Americans learned to curl our lips at do-gooders somewhere along the line. Do-gooders, bleeding hearts, people with a conscience went out of style. Pragmatism, selfishness, the free-market euphemism was used. All that took over.

Don't let that happen to you. Don't let time tarnish the ideas you cherish at this moment.

Hillary Clinton, lawyer and wife of Gov. Bill Clinton, at Arkansas State University:

When I talk about a changing era, I'm really talking about how we have moved from a position where we wanted the rest of the world to understand what we have learned for over 200 years about how to try to maximize opportunity for people. And they took that lesson to heart, and so that countries that didn't even exist at the end of World War II, places like Taiwan, countries that lay in ruin, like Japan and Germany, are now competing with us throughout the world.

And what is our response? Well, our response is to complain, to argue, to say it's not fair, to wish it would go away, to think we don't have to do anything differently because why can't the world stay the way it was.

Or we can say to ourselves, ``You know what? We were successful at trying to help other people do better for themselves. We better make sure we do better by ourselves.'' And the key to doing better by ourselves is education.

Jules Feiffer, cartoonist, at the University of Southern Maine:

Instead of the mythic united America of the American dream, the last 20 years has devolved into 200, 300, 500 different Americas sharing but one thing in common: a mutual fear, distrust, and hostility toward the other 499 Americas.... When Exxon looked upon its unprecedented Alaskan oil spill, its first thought was not to cleaning up the mess, which was according to US law. Its first thought was to evade the cost of recovery and raise gas prices. That was Bottom-Line law, which after all was in Exxon's interest because Exxon lives in Bottom-Line America. It was first and foremost loyal to its profit margin.

Now, out in Environmental America, they didn't understand that. But to Exxon it's just plain common sense....

The truth is not that nothing can be done. The truth, the God's honest truth, is that nothing is necessarily for keeps, except the faith. Nothing is written in stone and, even if it is, this is America: Who reads?

Clayton Yeutter, secretary of agriculture, at Clemson University:

I've evaluated a lot of folks as they've come up through academia, the business world, and government and my conclusion goes about as follows: that when you look at the very top people in this country or anywhere in the world, there's not a whole lot of difference in ability. There are a lot of smart people in the world, a lot of smart people sitting out in this audience today. There are a lot of people in the world who work hard, really hard. I'm one of them, and I hope many of you will be too. But that's not the distinguishing characteristic. There are many people who are smart and work hard and who do not reach the top. The distinguishing characteristic at the top in almost all cases is what your faculty here would call ``interpersonal skills,'' or some would call ``human relations.''