Saturday, June 11, 2011

June: A time for Commencement

UCI Commencement

For tens of thousands, June is the month that years of effort and perseverance will be rewarded by the conferring of a degree. I have written before about the significance of commencement and the importance of knowledge to the social health of this nation and the world. This year is no different, last week I attended commencement for the 2011 graduating class for the university where I teach. This is my sixth graduation ceremony and each year brings an increase in graduates, with women becoming the largest contingent in doctoral and masters, as well as bachelors degrees. This is borne out across the nation where women now hold more college degrees than men.  This points to something that troubled me earlier this year when I wrote about the growing number of 20-somethings who have opted to fore go higher education or even learning a trade or getting a job. The statistics in that article did not break down the gender, but a non-scientific census of family and acquaintances seems to reveal a large number of home-bound and under-employed boys, versus daughters who for the most part are off to school or working in a career field.

The debate about higher education got some attention this past week when Larry Sanger co-founder of Wikipedia wrote a series of articles that caught the eye of Galrahn at information dissemination. Sanger offers up a defense of higher education which he begins by deconstructing an essay written by a 19 year-old who decries that "College is a waste of time." Sanger's destroys each of the nine premises with devastating accuracy. Sanger's next article addresses a question he asks:
Is there a new anti-intellectualism? I mean one that is advocated by Internet geeks and some of the digerati. I think so: more and more mavens of the Internet are coming out firmly against academic knowledge in all its forms. This might sound outrageous to say, but it is sadly true.
Read more:
Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism?

Taking this all under consideration and review, one would see by the extensive responses to Sanger's latest article that it fostered a healthy debate.

Counter to the anti-intellectual arguments and 20-somethings postponing their lives; are the many students I see in class each week who are fore going their free time and personal gratification, to study and gain the knowledge that Larry Sanger so eloquently writes about. Before I close, I would like to share a brief story of a chance encounter that reinforces Sanger's essay on the worth of a higher education and serves as a tribute to all who will graduate this year.

Last month I visited my dentist for a routine filling. I was ushered into the treatment room by a young women who after getting me prepped, explained that the dentist would be delayed for a few minutes. She remained and our talk turned from joking about it being the "fateful" afternoon of May 21, "Doomsday," to history, global events, and the state of the nation. When the dentist joined us, he jumped right in the discussion, and while waiting for the Novocaine to take effect we three talked about the fate of higher education in California. I soon learned that this young women would be graduating this month from the University of California and would be entering medical school where she intended to become a  pediatrician.  She related that in addition to working as a dental assistant, she also worked in a local children's doctor's office and volunteered at a local hospital, all while maintaining the grades to qualify for medical school. In the short time I was in the dentist chair, and without getting too graphic, I observed a person who for a dental assistant, was as attentive to the patient as a practicing oral surgeon. When I asked her why she did not become a dentist, she responded that she worked in both kinds of offices to learn which path in medicine would best suit her passion. I became convinced that this person was destined to accomplish what she had set out to become.

After the dentist finished, I learned that her parents had been part of the mass immigration after the fall of Vietnam. She joins a growing list of young people whom I have encountered, who by the grace of circumstances borne out of a war long ago; have joined this band of souls we call Americans and are enriching the fabric of our nation with their grit and passion to succeed. I do not write this little vignette to cast un-do attention on her, but to acknowledge an accomplishment she shares with her fellow graduates this year. I am convinced that she is well on the way to becoming a fine doctor and will make her parents, and her community proud.

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