Plastics!

As I wrap up my graduation tour I’ve had time to ponder the current state of affairs for those who are about to enter the job field. While I was listening to one commencement speech – which I was called upon to “script doctor” – my mind wandered away to my undergraduate commencement speech and speaker. It wasn’t that long ago, at least not by my reckoning, yet it seems that even in the last five to seven years “life” has changed drastically.

The speech I was not listening to, because I knew what was coming, was somewhat cliché and self-congratulatory. I did my best to eliminate the “reach-for-the-stars- follow-your-dreams-you-can-do-anything!” triteness, with marginal success. At the same time, it would not have worked if I turned my hand to it more, which would have resulted in the speech sounding like Evelyn Waugh and T.S. Eliot ghostwrote it.

Back to my graduation speaker. In my case the speaker was an alum of distinction. She came from a prominent American family of long pedigree, but she did not rest on those laurels. She has written seminal and acclaimed books on politics and history and has ventured into dangerous war zones to do so. Her words to us were powerful – they were only slightly congratulatory. This was a college that actually required hard work. All the more reason, in this woman’s estimation, that the privilege we had just been afforded required a greater responsibly. It was a rousing exhortation to all gathered that we had social, moral and ethical obligations to try in our way, large or small, to contribute in a worthwhile manner to the betterment of humanity and the earth. It was and is a tall order – a life-long duty and I applaud it.

Back to the present day where every “accomplishment,” however inconsequential, is celebrated. To be sure, there were many grads who did extraordinary work and overcame truly horrendous obstacles. Most are “dreamers” which is the only new word in the American lexicon that I like – amid all the ugly horrid ones. I’d like to think we are all dreamers. The word makes me think of the John Lennon song “Imagine.”

Of this current group of grads, as well as the teens I spoke to, their preeminent concern is getting a job after graduation. Teens are worried and they haven’t gotten there yet.  One reason, surely, is that college is so costly – even an organ donation won’t cover it – that the expectation must needs that employment immediately follow. This, sadly, turns college – in my view – into a technical school. Going to college to become educated, to have a “gentleman’s [or woman’s] education” is a luxury that is beyond most. When I talk about it people look at me like I’ve lost my mind.

Those grads who I know were fortunate to land jobs straightaway – all in STEM fields. Commendable to be sure, and I have no doubt they will do great things. But where, oh where, are our new crop of artists, poets, writers, dancers, musicians, sculptors, et al.? Will they be forced to forgo their creative bent and work for a Fortune 500 company that guarantees you some financial stability but kills your soul? Okay, that might be a bit much, but I’m campaigning for the “B-word” – Balance!!!

I had a professor, at this same college, who posited that the greatest ages were those where the sciences and the humanities were equal – e.g., the Renaissance, the 19th century. I suspect the 21st century will not be included on this list. The scale is tipped to science.

So, to recall a line from the enduring film The Graduate, plastics was the future. Fast forward 51(!) years, and we have this: 

Now the wave of the future is: Science, Technology, Engineering Math – STEM: the siren’s call to lucre, upward mobility, keeping up with the Jone’s, mortgages, 401Ks, debt. The American way.

Welcome to the machine.

 

 

 

 

Clare Irwin

Live and Let Die

Well, we’ve turned the clocks back, the days are shorter, and I certainly hope that I will be writing more often. I always say that, but as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” Speaking of Lennon, I have intended to write a post about Paul McCartney. About a month or so ago I was listening to the radio – as I have mentioned before – I regularly listen to a local high school radio station which is well-produced. That day, I happened upon two students, Riley and Jack, sister and brother respectively, who were relating that they had just seen Paul McCartney in concert.

Their account was exciting, visual and effusive. I was charmed by their enthusiasm and pleasure. I tuned in while they were talking about McCartney’s performance of “Live and Let Die” which, as they noted, was the theme song (and title) of the James Bond movie — from 1973! According to Riley and Jack the “graphics were awesome and so were the pyrotechnics” during the song. They played audio of the crowd going wild. I re-listened to the song and it is great – it’s both sweet and cynical: “When you were young and your heart/Was an open book/You used to say live and let live…But in this ever changin’ world/In which we live in/Makes you give in and cry/Say live and let die…Good stuff.

The pair remarked about the “awesome vibe” throughout the concert. Then unannounced, Bruce Springsteen came out and he and McCartney did an old Beatles song, “I Saw Her Standing There.” More crowd going wild. McCartney ended the show with the song “Golden Slumbers” from the Abbey Road album – a year before the Beatles broke up.

I enjoyed listening to them and was thrilled and a little envious – it did sound like an amazing experience. As I thought about it during the day, the envy dissipated and I was delighted to think that in that concert hall were Riley and Jack,  maybe 15 years old or so, along with people of every age — up to McCartney’s contemporaries who are in their 70s. How great is that – to be able to pull that thread of energy and magnetism through nearly five decades?

I follow McCartney’s daughter, Stella McCartney, on Twitter. I’ve been a fan of hers for some time, watching her amazing career as a fashion designer and so much more. She is another woman (see my Tina Fey articles) who I hold in awe. Talented, complete, a spokesperson for many great causes, funny, quirky, cultured – the whole package. Or, the real deal as a friend of mine says. Married with four children, and very much her father’s daughter – and her mother’s daughter too. She often and fondly Tweets about her. Greatness definitely did not skip a generation. Her love for her dad and frequent Tweets about him led me to follow Paul McCartney on Twitter as well.

I am so very glad I caught Riley’s and Jack’s show that day, otherwise, knowing me, I would have missed the whole thing. They reminded me of the continuity of things, the long and winding road (if you will), the endless stream of time and connected-ness – not little isolated parcels as some seem to see it.

Legends – how nice to be a part and a participant in them.

Clare Irwin

P.S. On a lighter note, but in that vein, is also the impossibly enduring staying power of the James Bond franchise.