To the Class of 2018: A Commencement Address

This is a day of debts both moral and monetary. The moral being, debt is not determinative but circumstances are. Your circumstances will determine whether you are the prisoners of financial debt or the last class to be indebted to institutions too big to fail, regardless of whether you fail to escape its shackles or loosen its restraints.

The debt we owe you is the same we owe ourselves: to ensure you maximize your education, while we work to economize the cost of education without compromising its quality, so you may enrich the economy and enlighten the world. Or, the day will come—it may already have come and gone—when America’s college classrooms will have no room for the children of the middle class.

Such a day is a doomsday scenario, as it would doom the nation. It would be the damnation of all that America is, and all that America means; that you need not be a person of means to have the chance to succeed; that we are the land of second chances; that there are lands within the land, where people come to begin anew; that we pack our bags, but we are not carpetbaggers; that we are New Yorkers, Texans, and Californians, too; that we go where the work is, or will be; that we invent the future.

There is, however, no future if we continue apace. Time will pass but nothing will change, except the money you owe and the intensity by which others seek to collect it. I know: No one forced you to sign those promissory notes, that you made a promise to honor your debts and be a person of honor. But no contract is not renegotiable. Not when we grant debt forgiveness outside America but not within it.

The latter must change, or we may as well dismantle the economic ladder of opportunity. You must change, too, as this is the end of your college education, not the end of your need for further education.

Your civic education starts now. It ends when you do. Its ends are a literate and skilled citizenry, fluent in the rights of man and free to champion its virtues. You are Americans first, whose first concern should be the survival and the success of liberty.

Photo credit: Rob Stothard/Getty Images

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