Thomas Sowell: Commencement Season

As only he can do, Thomas Sowell breaks down the purposes of most commencement speeches in this article titled, Commencement Season (click here). Here are some excerpts from the article.

“Two themes seem to dominate Commencement speeches. One is shameless self-advertising by people in government, or in related organizations supported by the taxpayers of donors, saying how nobler it is to be in “public service” than working in business or other “selfish activities”. In other words, the message is that it is morally superior to be in organizations consuming output produced by others than to be in organizations which produce the output. Moreover, being morally one-up is where it’s at.”

“The second theme of many Commencement speakers, besides flattering themselves that they are in morally superior careers, is to flatter the graduates that they are now equipped to go out into the world as “leaders” who can prescribe how other people should live. In other words, young people, who in most cases have never had either the sobering responsibility and experience of being self-supporting adults, are to tell other people – who have had that responsibility and that experience for years – how they should live their lives.”

In so far as the graduates go into “public service” in government…..They are to help order other people around.”

“….what commencement speakers are suggesting is that inexperienced young graduates are to prescribe, or help dictate, to vast numbers of other people who have the real world experience that the graduates themselves lack.”

“To the extent that such graduates remain in government – “public service” – they can progress….. never acquiring the experience of being on the receiving end of their prescriptions or dictates. That can mean a lifetime of people with ignorance presuming to prescribe to people with personal knowledge.”

Does this sound like President Obama! (my comment)

“However well-educated the students might be in particular narrow fields – and, in too many cases, they have not gotten even that – what the graduates might have, at best, is a foundation for acquiring the real world experience necessary to complete their education and fulfill the ancient admonition, “With all you getting, get understanding.”

“Presumption is not understanding. It is the antithesis of understanding.”

“It was my good fortune not to have gone to college until I was several years older than most people. At an age when too many young people have been told too often how brilliant and exceptional they are – presumably to promote “self-esteem” – I was working at unskilled labor jobs and struggling to buy food and pay my room rent.”

“I learned the hard way that the good grades I had earned before dropping out of school were of no use to me in my low-level jobs. No one told me how brilliant I was. They were too busy correcting my mistakes.”

“It was painfully obvious that adults around me understood much more about their work – and about life. This taught me inescapable lessons and respect for people who had no academic pretensions but a lot of common sense.”

“It would take a lot more than lofty Commencement speeches to undo those lessons. We all have windfall gains and windfall losses. But, all in all, I feel lucky compared to those graduates who are so vulnerable to slick Commencement speakers.”


Dr. Sowell has written many books (to see list click here) about the “towering presumptions” of the anointed in government. Here is a quote by Dr. Sowell that sums up what he thinks about the anointed:

“People who are very aware that they have more knowledge then the average person are often very unaware that they do not have one tenth of the knowledge of all of the average persons put together. In this situation, for the intelligentsia to impose their notions on ordinary people, is essentially to impose ignorance on knowledge.

Here is a shorter summation by Dr. Sowell:

“Credentialed ignorance is still ignorance”


Related ArticleGeorge Will Outlines What Should Be In Every Commencement Speech, at

Related ArticleMichelle Obama vs. Thomas Sowell On The Politics Of Race, at

Related ArticleBest Commencement Speech Ever, Adm. McCraven Gets My Vote, at





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