"Running through the challenges being put to today's graduates is an undercurrent of concern about whether today's youthful idealism is being put to useful purposes.
"While the academic corridors ring with idealistic slogans about . . . lofty concepts of justice and human attainment, these aspirations have not noticeably provided a counterpart for the 'work ethic' of yesteryear."
-- From a Buffalo News editorial,
"Now, students are more concerned with career goals. There's not a practical side to some of what we teach, and students resist that. An accounting major just wants to take accounting courses.
"When I went to college in the '60s, we went for reasons of personal growth. Now, we've got a lot of Alex Keatons. They all want a Mercedes in the driveway."
-- Dr. Thomas Miller,
vice president for student affairs,
at Canisius College's
graduation ceremony Saturday
I MET SOME OF the graduates of 1989 on Saturday and, in some ways, I was impressed.
Many of them have a sense of purpose that was not as obvious in the early 1970s, when I was in college. Many of them have decided on a professional course. Many majored in such practical fields as accounting or business administration. They are eager to find jobs.
Twenty years ago, this was generally not the case. The idea then was to open oneself up to new ideas, in the hope of changing society for the better.
Now, college graduates are not so much concerned with changing society as with fitting into it.
Each generation has its own influences. Those who entered college in the late '60s and early '70s had seen political and spiritual leaders assassinated, the war in Vietnam and race riots. It was an era of questioning the established order and of little respect for big business.
This generation of college graduates grew up in a decade of peace and relative prosperity. There were no wars to divide them, no race riots to polarize them. Their heroes are Lee Iococca and Ronald Reagan, not Che Guevera and Bobby Kennedy. Today's buzz-letters are BMW and MTV, not SDS and LSD.
This crop of graduates has seen a lack of ethics in government and business, the rise (and partial fall) of the stock market, the glorification of money and those who make it. The guess here is that most of them would rather have Donald Trump's autograph than Desmond Tutu's. To this graduate of 15 years ago, that is somewhat frightening.
Nearly 20 years ago, Sen. Jacob Javits was Canisius' commencement speaker; he outlined his plan for stopping the Vietnam War.
Saturday, Canisius' commencement speaker was J. Peter Grace, CEO of a large chemical company.
Twenty years ago, Grace would probably have been met with catcalls and protests. Saturday, students listened raptly as he criticized the effectiveness of federal programs to help the disadvantaged.
The times, they have a-changed.
Maybe the graduates of 20 years ago were impractical. Eventually, steady jobs had to be found, reservations about society reconciled.
Today's graduates are better-prepared to join society than we were. Fewer of them will drift in search of "self" or some elusive ideal. Fewer, one suspects, will become drug casualties. They are less antagonistic toward their elders.
Their practicality is partly a reaction to changing reality. While jobs in accounting and many business fields were plentiful in the early '70s, they are not now.
"A college degree doesn't mean that much anymore," said Canisius graduate Tony Lana, who is headed for law school. "So many people I know are business or finance majors with a 3.0 (grade point average), and there's no jobs for them."
"There's about 30 people in my (field of study)," said David Surowiec, who majored in business administration and has landed a job in Connecticut. "A lot of them have no job yet. There's a lot of competition."
Like many of their peers, Lana and Surowiec had a good idea of their career direction as freshmen. College has prepared them for the next step.
Yet one wonders if many of the current graduates have missed the point. College should not be just a time of preparation, but for questioning values and society. Certainly, there is reason to question. Among the obvious ills in this country are homelessness, poverty and racial, sexual and age discrimination.
The problems are obvious, yet many of these graduates seem oblivious to them. They are notable, not for their ideals and a concern for others, but for their selfabsorption and careerism.
The question is, if they are not idealistic now, when will they ever be?