In Response to Stephens, on His Address to the Class of 2012

9 May

Dear Mr. Stephens,

I read your letter to the class of 2012. And while I graduated about two years ago, your letter was rather thought provoking.

To begin with, it’s not very nice of you to not congratulate those students that spent the last four years doing simply what society has told them they have to do. They went to elementary school, then middle school, then high school, and then they were told they have to go to college if they don’t want to starve and die, yes?

You state,

“through exertions that-let’s be honest-were probably less than heroic, most of you have spent the last few years getting inflated grades in useless subjects in order to obtained a debased degree”

So to that I ask, whose fault is this? Clearly we’re not the ones that put together the curriculum. The college system was not something we created. We were simply being advised by those before us and now many of us are dirt poor and in debt, perhaps for no reason.

As for our president, I can’t say that I voted for him. Because guess what? A lot of us still believe in the importance of working hard despite the the stigma that our generation has been given of being lazy and entitled.

Yes, many of us are, but there are others that are not. So please, I’d prefer it if you didn’t generalize.

But while we’re on this subject of entitlement, once again, I’m going to ask, whose fault is it? The sense of entitlement our society  seems to have adopted is simply a byproduct of policies implemented by previous presidents that many of you, in previous generations, “voted for with such enthusiasm”.

As I reflected on the other various issues that you have with us young workers, I’ll admit, many of the points you make are valid. Perhaps we are the least knowledgeable graduating class in history. But really, who’s teaching us?

Yes, I agree, our competition is global. But it’s not just the competition of us young workers, it’s your competition too. So we ALL better “shape up”.

You then go on to say that to read through our CVs

“is to be assaulted by endless Advertisements for Myself. Here you are, 21, or 22 years old, claiming to have accomplished feats in past summer internships or at your school newspaper that would be hard to credit in the biography of Walter Lippmann or Ernie Pyle”

Mr. Stephens, with all due respect, we HAVE to make even the most minute accomplishments seem of the utmost importance, because how else do we get jobs?! The requirements for entry-level jobs these days are absurd!

But yes, absolutely, I agree that there will always be a market for people that are capable of thinking for themselves.

I’d like to conclude this letter by saying that as of late, this conversation about young workers entering the workforce seems to be an “us against them” conversation.

I think that’s dumb.

Because rather than being a conversation of attacks against generations, it should be one of collaboration. We should be trying to figure out what we can  learn from one another. We should be trying to learn each of our strengths and weaknesses so that we can work together to better society and to help others.

So how about we ALL “tone down our egos” and “shape up our minds”?

What do you think? Let’s call it a truce?


22 Responses to “In Response to Stephens, on His Address to the Class of 2012”

  1. Tammy Davis May 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm #


  2. larkycanuck May 9, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    I take back my previous suggestion to you about becoming a lawyer. Given that you write so intelligently you should consider journalism. And since you are evidently reading the Wall Street Journal at such an young age, nothing less than the New Yorker, NYTimes, Bloomberg, Washington Post should suffice

  3. Christa May 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    This guy is completely obnoxious. Such a great idea to beat up on people who already feeling beaten down. I really wish more people would spend time encouraging one another as opposed to spending the energy to put people down. Thanks for your response – I’m with you!

    • Caitlin May 9, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

      I feel exactly the same way. All this negativity is not helping anyone!

  4. jlgentry May 9, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    Nicely addressed. You triggered a side thought. A while back I worked for a well respected and liked senior manager. Someone asked him over coffee what his secret for success had been and he said he worked to get all of his people promoted. Several of them were very senior and remembered him and all that he had done for them. In a way, I think the attitude to promote the future, not cling to the present is your fundamental message. I’ve had the opportunity to put his advice into practice and it has absolutely been worth the investment. If we are going to break down the barriers we all seem to be looking at, we have to realize that cooperation is a potent weapon. I’m not talking Kumbaya at the fire, but a commitment for mutual success. Isn’t that what basic management is all about?

    Thanks for posting.

  5. Caitlin May 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

    Clearly Mr. Stephens believes that the best way to motivate us is to undermine everything we’ve been trying to do thus far in our lives. His is one of the most condescending letters I’ve ever read, and his tone completely negates any valuable advice that might be hidden under his disdain.

    I think our educational system is slowly failing. I believe that. But you make a good point: we’re not teaching ourselves. We’re just continuing to move through the system laid before us. We can only do so much beyond that, barring complete revolution. We also have no control over the job market we’re getting into, because frankly, there is no degree out there that’s guaranteed a job these days. (Clearly Mr. Stephens is a Republican, but that’s another discussion.)

    I wish that more of our predecessors and colleagues were supportive of young workers rather than combative towards them. You want to talk about selfishness? Let’s talk about condemning and criticizing rather than offering help and constructive advice.

    • Adea May 9, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

      Great post, Kayla. Love the counterpoints that you’ve raised. It seems like ever year around this time everyone who doesn’t get asked to be a commencement speaker decides that its their duty to impart some wisdom to the graduating class (as members of the blogosphere we’re probably a little guilty of this too) Some people do it in ways that are insightful, funny and helpful and others do it in ways that are haughty, condescending, or rude. Unfortunately, I think Mr. Stephens piece falls in the latter category.

      My general inclination is to recommend graduating seniors to read these things and then ignore them until they have worked about 6 months or so in the working world. Perspective and experiences change attitudes and thought processes, and hopefully with a few battle wounds under the belt these kinds of pieces might have more context and relevance.

      One point he makes (although I would have used a better tone) is that going from college to the real world does sometimes take a dose or two of humility. Going from being the big man (or women) on campus to the beginning rung of the ladder in the workplace isn’t always easy, but a little humility and openness to new ideas is never a bad thing.

  6. Russell Cullingworth May 9, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    Hi Kayla, I think you were too hard on Mr. Stephens. He is the type of leader American needs to inspire it’s next generation and lead them to greatness. Parents can learn from this man on how to encourage their children and build them up. What other choice but to respond to this man with admiration and inspiration to be just like him…

    On a serious note, this type of writing and opinion is the last thing young Americans (or Canadians) need. Sure, there is need for teaching and mentoring the next generation, and a way to motivate and inspire GenY’s to achieve greatness. I have always despised those who throw guilt, shame, sarcasm or negative criticism onto others – becoming part of the problem and not working toward a solution. Blaming others instead of looking inward. His writing reminds me of a pissed of, cynical parent crushing their children’s dreams for a better future.

    I am surprised that the WSJ allows this to be published under their banner. While there might be some value in his thoughts, the way he delivers it negates any value and actually creates the opposite – a destructive effect on the reader.

    Observing US politics from a Canadian Perspective, I think Obama has done the best he could under the circumstances, having inherited a war that costs American taxpayers $10,000,000,000 a month! For what? To attack Iraq for weapons that didn’t exist, and in response to 9/11 where all the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia? Sorry, I digress… BTW, not so impressed by what we see of Romney.

    • sjh2011 May 11, 2012 at 12:49 am #

      I feel as if you need a congratulatory thank you on your praise of Obama. I’m in complete agreement that he’s done the best available under the circumstances.

  7. andreadealmagro May 9, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

    The guy is an idiot. Don’t take him seriously. He’s just following a script of the WSJ. I posted the following in that piece: Let see if he is as smart as he claims.

    “Mr. Stephens: You met 4 or 5 people and draw enough subjective conclusions to degrade an entire graduate class – perhaps an entire generation? Amazing how low the WSJ has dropped when they hired you. There are all kinds of students among the class of 2012. I am certain that many deserve the respect which you denied them in your piece of cheap rhetoric.

    Even if the entire class was made of Einsteins, they would still have difficulties and not because of their shortcomings. We truly have serious structural problems.

    Forget about the U.S. president during the Suez crisis and his successor: Tell me: Why were the French paras much more efficient at doing short work of the Egyptian troops they faced than their British counterparts? If you are so smart judging others, you should know this off the bat.

    I’ll give you 1/2 hour to ask others and look in Wiki.”

    Andrea Dealmagro
    Independent for Governor of New Jersey 2013

  8. Martin Mcdougall May 9, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    So how about we ALL “tone down our egos” and “shape up our minds”? Love that… Great post

  9. hughcurtler May 9, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    I haven’t read the address you refer to, but from your references, I would have to say that I agree with Stephens about the lack of adequate preparation of today’s students. And you are absolutely correct: it’s the colleges’ fault, not the students. The faculties and administrations not only of your alma mater, but of the vast majority of colleges around the country have failed their students by letting them do pretty much what they want for four years instead of requiring a challenging and timely curriculum that would guarantee that students graduate ready for anything — not just a specific job. And you are also correct in saying that the solution will not be found by pointing fingers, but by working together to see that it doesn’t continue to cripple future generations of college students. I have written a number of blogs about this and also a book. Our education system gets a grade of D in my view….though that may be a bit high (allow for grade inflation!)

  10. Rick Pulito May 9, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

    First of all, I think your blog is fabulous. You have a bright and shining future in whatever realm you choose to devote yourself. In fact, your passion and fire for the future and what it holds for all in your generation is encouraging and inspirational. As for Bret Stephens, I think he is a man who has become crusty and benign before his time. His jaded perspective on the graduation class of 2012 struck me as cynical, unduly harsh, and extraordinarily condescending.

    As one who is minimally twenty years his senior, I can say that and not be accused of being disrespectful or dismissive, although based on his work for the WSJ this year, I will say that it would be easy to dismiss him as a mere purveyor of negativity and a black-hole in a universe of optimism. His pedigree, it appears, entitles Mr. Stephens to believe he may flaunt his personal success. I might counter that being born into a privileged environment, attending the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics, does not grant one that right. Being born on third base is not the same as hitting a triple.

    Here is my counter-point to the admonitions of Bret Stephens…to the Class of 2012:

    • Don’t believe what you read…learn from experience first, then from those whom you believe you can trust the most. The media is no more reliable than Craigslist when it comes to telling the whole, unfettered truth.

    • Embrace that you are young. You have one chance in life to backpack through the various cultures of our planet. Find your internal explorer, and set your sights on things unseen and unknown. You have one chance in life to be young, use it to your unique advantage.

    • Find what you love, that which you would do if money did not matter, and then find a way to make money doing it. Work to support your life. Don’t commit to living for your work. That may come to pass later. When you are 20-something, take some risks. Use your head, be smart about your choices, and accept that you will make some poor decisions.

    • Learn more. I am 58 years old. I learn new things every single day. I still recognize who I was when I was 25, and have not lost complete touch with that person. Change is good. Knowing where you have come from, where you are, and where you are going is good as well.

    • Be expressive. Be creative. Bring a new view to what you do, to how you live, to others. Write, sing, paint, sculpt, act, muse…whatever keeps you excited for what comes next. What your art means to others is far less important than what it means for you. Don’t judge your art in a context other than what it means to you at the moment of creation. It will always serve as your ticket to back in time to where you were, who you were when you brought it into existence.

    • If someone you don’t know tells you how to live your life presume that they are merely commiserating about what they missed out on in their life. If someone you know and love talks to you about life, listen carefully. You don’t have to do what they say, but know that it is heartfelt, and may have a ring of truth to it. Parents, for example, are not always wrong just because they are your parents.

    • Be hopeful. Your energy, your passion, your verve will take you farther than a degree from the London School of Economics or the University of Chicago. If money is how you measure your success, then those schools are no doubt a fine path to pursue. If money + personal satisfaction are your goals, then find the schools where bright, entrepreneurial students study. If personal satisfaction is more important than money, then the world is your school. Just make sure that no matter which experience you opt for, you continue to learn. Always learn more.

    I hope you find this a worthy counterpoint to the dismal diatribe of Stephens (sidebar: it’s no wonder to me that the poor chap doesn’t use his first name in the masthead). There is an old saying that I cannot attribute to anyone, and it goes like this: “If you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you’re right.”


    Rick Pulito

  11. Ray Wheeler, DMin May 9, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

    Well said Kayla – as one who teaches in private universities I take your words to heart! Keep writing you have important things to say.

  12. dcwisdom May 10, 2012 at 12:46 am #

    Yes, Rick Pulito! Excellent discourse!

  13. Fay Moore May 10, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    Here, here.

  14. stephenedwards425 May 10, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

    Others have posted stellar replies to Mr. Stephens, so I will refrain from adding my two cents, other that to say…very concise and well done.

    Be encouraged!

  15. Sueyq May 11, 2012 at 3:44 am #

    Yes, You said it very well, I am the oldest worker in my office and the forty, thirty something folks in the office are well educated with regards to what they are doing. I may be the oldest however, I have not been in that department the longest. They have been there longer than I and I have respect for the knowlege they have over me. We are not in competition with each other.
    We work together and respect each other. it is not able the education or one’s age. It is all about respect for each other as another working adult. We all take and have pride in the work we do and we all work well together. So much so that we have a great office and we get things done. Other come and want to know how we do it and get along. All I can say is it is with respect and care we have to do a job well and be fair in our work and in our interest in getting along in a happy and peaceful office. We are human( which means we all have falults, problems, situation) and we care about each other and the family of each, and by working together we create a very happy and productive office.
    I am of the mind frame that one is not credited respect until they respect you as a person. no matter what age or education level one has or does not have. age does not mean wisdon is automatically there. it is with humility that one understands others. Smile

  16. smallivy May 12, 2012 at 3:00 am #

    While I agree Mr. Stephens was harsh in his letter, the desire to assign fault to everyone around you in your response and almost universally in the comments is disheartening. (Heck – there was even a comment giving a full pass to President Obama because of that rascally George Bush. Poor Obama, there is no way he could do anything to change things with what he was given. He’s the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, for goodness sake, and he’s had three years! The economy was just as bad in 1980 and Ronald Reagan, with the help of Paul Volker, was able to turn things around and start to greatest ecomonic expansion we’ve ever seen.)

    Yes, you were all told that all you had to do was go through grade school, then high school, then go to a good college and get a degree in anything and then employers would be falling all over themselves to give you a great job doing exactly what you want to do with flexible hours and free wifi, They were wrong. They lied, or they were idiots, or they were enablers – wanting to stroke your egos and keep you from ever having a distressing thought and they caused you to not be ready for the world you were entering.

    The point is that now you are here, lying in the ditch covered in blood and broken glass from your inevitable crash. No one, not Obama, not Romney, not even Ron Paul is going to come and pull you out. You can lie here in the ditch and blame the car maker, or the guy who inflated your tires, or the guy who built the road, but it is not going to get you out of the ditch. I believe his point, poorly worded as it may have been, is that people need to take what is given to them and make what they can.

  17. G. Foy June 1, 2012 at 1:51 am #

    Tell it, girl! I couldn’t agree with you more!!!


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