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Graduates, now the real world lessons will commence


Dear High School Graduate,

Tomorrow (or sometime very soon), you will walk down an aisle, up some steps and across a stage, where somebody in a formal robe will hand you a piece of paper, and your status in the world will suddenly change.

I know, that is a big moment, and it will feel great. And you are right to be proud of your accomplishment, and hopeful for the future.

It is also likely that, some short time before that particular moment, you listened to somebody tell you some variant on the idea that "it's called 'commencement' because it is not the end of something, but the beginning of something."

But, what they probably won't tell you, and what I am using these column-inches to say, is that the "next thing," the "beginning," can't happen the way it is supposed to unless you wrap your heads around the idea that what you've been taught, to this point, won't help you going forward. I'm not saying that what we've taught you is a lie - I don't think we did it with the intent to mislead you. But, nonetheless, not everything you think you know is actually true.

And, no, not things like a-squared plus b-squared equals c-squared, or that George Washington was the first President. That stuff is true enough (though, some days, I would shocked if you'd actually been taught that). I'm talking more about processes and assumptions about how the world works. Let me give you an example.

You have probably spent a good part of the last few years "collaborating"-working in teams to finish projects, because "that's the way the modern workforce works." In teams. But a recent study, published in Applied Psychology, reports that collaboration tends to elevate mediocrity. In fact, worse than that, collaborative efforts tend to take really excellent students and workers, and creates a dynamic where they become more socially isolated and less likely to engage their peers in further efforts.

Not exactly what you've been told, is it? Of course, this can't come as news to you: how many times in your academic career have you been in a "team" where everybody did equal work? Of course not - most of the time, the person who cares the most about their grade ends up doing most of the work. Sometimes, the work of two or three people.

So, you have to ask yourself, I think, if that most basic tenet of modern education is false, what other basic assumptions have no validity?

How about this one: you - "Millennials"-are disengaged, irresponsible, unusually naive, intellectually lazy, and a whole host of other not-very-complimentary things.

But, let me offer you a defense: YOU are not the people who decided that it was better to get a participation ribbon at the end of field day instead of awards; YOU are not the people who decided that giving you a $600 phone and allowing it to substitute for human interaction was a good idea; and YOU are not the people who decided that it was okay to never have to hear an idea that goes against what you think. Sadly, those are all things brought to you by, well, by my generation.

With the nicest of intentions - and a very selective memory about how we became who we are - we (and by "we" I mean intellectuals, academics and "experts") have tried to envelop you in an emotional and psychological bubble wrap that has, at times, infantilized you to an astonishing degree.

I, for one, apologize for that. But, unless you want to end up like one out of three of your slightly older peers - that is, living in your parents' basement well into your 20's - open yourself up to the possibility that the real world isn't quite what you've been told. Embrace it! Wrestle with it!

And welcome to it. It's actually quite a lot of fun!

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His novels are available at MichaelJAlcorn.com

Michael Alcorn


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