Jonathan Zimmerman: This Graduation Season, Let's Remember the Twentieth Century

tags: Jonathan Zimmerman, JFK, graduation, commencement



Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press).

Aim high. If you fall, pick yourself up. And, most of all, follow your dreams.

Welcome, college graduate, to your 2013 commencement exercises. The speeches are all about you! You should find something that makes you passionate; you should pursue it, as far as you can....

But education should help us get beyond ourselves, to transcend the narrow particulars of our interests and wishes and ambitions. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing your passions, of course. But the real question is how they’ll affect the people around you.

That was the theme of many commencement speeches in earlier generations, when it was simply assumed that college graduates had an obligation to help others. Part of that had to do with America’s unrivaled dominance, which could spawn its own brand of arrogance. But it also imbued Americans with a sense of shared duty, to each other and to the world....




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