Machine Design, Editorial Comment
May 17,2001

So to continue a tradition, I'll make my speech from the podium of this editorial page with a talk, once again, designed to counter the vacuous messages normally heard at commencements.

Tap, tap, tap, is the microphone on? Can you hear me in the back? Dr. and Mrs. Pedagogue, esteemed faculty and honored guests, graduating seniors and parents, today I will talk to you about one of the missions of a university, and that is its duty to transform callow youth into cultured ladies and gentlemen. In that connection, let me reminisce a bit.

Many years ago, my parents regularly hosted Saturday night card games. My wife and I would attend along with a coterie of various relatives and in-laws. Parenthetically, I'll add that at these events we drank whiskey and gambled for real money, making me eternally grateful for the heritage bestowed on me by my family. But I digress.

There were typically a dozen or more people in the game, but my wife and I were the only college graduates. Roughly half the group grew up in hard times and had been forced to find jobs as teenagers, so they hadn't even graduated from high school.

I didn't think much about it at the time, but years later I realized there was something special about the people around that card table. By today's standards, most of them were poorly educated. Yet their banter was always polite, reasonably sophisticated, and mannerly. The grammar was correct and everyone had an adequate vocabulary. Moreover, everyone dressed properly. The older men even wore neckties because that was the right thing to do when you were invited out for a Saturday evening.

Today I stand in front of you, who by virtue of the degrees you are about to receive, are supposedly educated people and, many would presume, also sophisticated ladies and gentlemen. Dream on.

In actuality, you are what has been labeled the Monosyllabic Generation. You have trouble speaking in more than sentence fragments, let alone complete paragraphs. When it comes to expressing yourselves, your whole vocabulary from approbation to condemnation consists of only three words, namely, "cool" and "that sucks." If those words fail you, regardless of your gender you feel free to draw upon obscenities. Moreover, it isn't just your command of the language that is lacking. When you eventually enter the workforce, your employers probably will have to teach you decent manners and dress.

I could go on and on, but in your defense, none of this is your fault. Instead, it is the fault of the faculty and administration of this university. At one time, institutions of higher learning assumed the task of rounding rough edges and filling in what was lacking in the upbringing of students. But not today. The modern university has abrogated any responsibility for turning students into well-spoken and mannerly ladies and gentlemen. As a consequence, the ostensibly ill-educated people with whom I once played cards were far more polished and articulate than you are. And that really sucks.

Thank you for your kind attention. Good evening. Thunderous applause builds to pandemonium until Dr. Pedagogue steps to the podium to announce: "Mr. Khol has left the auditorium."

-- Ronald Khol, Editor