The class of '85

LIKE millions of American parents, we have just gone through the pleasantly traumatic ceremony of graduating our first-born from college. I say pleasant, because it was an occasion for congratulation, celebration, and sentiment, marking a moment of achievement and transition.

I say traumatic, because the years have become inexplicably compressed, and it seems only yesterday that today's graduate was a toddler, gamboling with a new puppy and a new kitten, and running races in the white gym uniform of the English school she attended in Asia while we lived there.

Now she is part of that talented and hopeful new generation about to exchange the cloistered world of academe for the realities of the marketplace.

The moment was fitting for such wandering thoughts. It was an idyllic spring day. There was a sun-dappled sward. There was an open-sided amphitheater which somebody's black Labrador came to inspect, but he had seen it all before and left with an expression of bored intellectual superiority.

There was the local bagpipe band, perspiring in its Scottish regalia, but puffing manfully into the pipes. I inquired into the reason for its presence and was told there was none; it is a charming annual tradition. The result was the wail and the moan of the pipes, which conjure up the dank mystery of Scotland even on a bright American day.

Behind the band, the faculty members paraded in their gowns. There was a groomed silver fox, then a tousled professor we hoped was at the right commencement, another in formal white tie, and the inevitable rebel whose robe barely concealed an open-necked plaid sport shirt.

There were proud and excited parents, grateful and excited students. Atop the mortarboards of some of them were such stenciled messages as ``THANX, MOM AND DAD.'' There were yells and screams as favored students got their diplomas, a lapse in decorum fully accepted on this day. There was a ``no-substitute-for-hard-work'' address from the commencement speaker. ``Go the extra distance unasked,'' she advised the fledgling job-seekers. There was a plug from the president about the growth of the college this year, its improved national scores, its new buildings -- and how to pay for them in the years ahead.

But the president added a particularly significant thought. When the graduates came back for their fifth reunion, he said, he hoped they would not say their college years had been the best of their lives. If they did, the college would have failed them. For their education should have so fitted them that each year in the work force would be better than the preceding one.

It was a good thought; nostalgia is a pleasant reverie, but is often a trap that blocks further exertion.

So what kind of a society are these students launched into? While there is much violence abroad, they inherit a world in which the United States is at peace. ``That's pretty nice,'' one student said. The Americans among the graduates inherit an economy which, despite hiccups, is strong and growing. It is the engine that drives the growth of Europe and affects the economy of the entire world.

These two factors alone offer a sound foundation for career-building. But the class of '85 also steps into a technology-obsessed society in which the computer occupies a regal role. The development of fiber optics is about to trigger revolution within a communications revolution that is already under way. The student unmindful of such developments may be left behind.

In their personal lives, the members of the class of '85 face decisions about drugs, alcohol, and concepts of marriage that may have every bit as much impact on the subsequent generation as the revolution in technology has had upon this. Such is the outlook as the class of '85 moves out to storm castles, slay dragons, spread peace, creativity, and prosperity, and find happiness, wisdom, and inspiration.

John Hughes, who won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, was assistant secretary of state for public affairs from 1982 to 1984.

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