Mira Costa Principal's Commencement Remarks
The Mira Costa administrative team (Principal Ben Dale at center) at the 2017 commencement ceremony - Photo via MBUSD
The full text of his remarks is below:
Commencement Speech 2017 - The New American Dream
By Mira Costa Principal Ben Dale
The term The American Dream comes from Pulitzer-prize winning author and historian James Truslow Adams who wrote in a 1931 depression-torn America "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement." Interesting words at a time when no one lived better, richer or fuller. In the decade that followed, the notion of an American Dream would become a cultural cornerstone. In his commencement speech our first principal, Lloyd Waller championed the idea to the class of 1953 when he said, “the abolishment of fear and want goes to make a secure world, while free speech and religious freedom form a free world. Either one or the other of our two goals, freedom and security, has been reached at some time, but never both at once. In order to make utopia of the world of the future, we must first deal with the problems standing in our way.” Mr. Waller was asking for a new American Dream. One that looked both inward and outward. It was both forward thinking and respectful of the past.
By the mid 20th century when Mr. Waller was asking for global awareness, the American dream had transitioned from the westward expansion dream of the 19th century to the pursuit individual success and personal wealth. Peoples and cultures emigrated here from all over the world to find this dream of success. The same dream also inspired oppressed peoples already here, giving birth to civil rights and social justice. By the end of the 20th century though, which was my generation, the dream came to represent greed both home and abroad. Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is good” became the vision and mission of the late 20th century. My generation’s attitude of self-first, brought us into the 21st century, arguably the most volatile and dynamic period of our nation’s history.
So our present condition begs the question “what does the American dream represent today?” Sixty-four years ago as the nation entered a new era, Mr. Waller asked for the dream to be redefined. I am asking for it again today. The nation once again enters into a new era, and this is the unique position of the class of 2017. Future generations will see you seniors as the pioneers of this new culture, this new society, this new American dream. Seniors, please allow me to propose a framework for your consideration as you go out into the world:
- Rediscover dialogue: Go out and find someone who disagrees with you and talk. Seek first to understand and then to be understood. If you disagree and are shocked or offended by what you hear in the dialogue, try a new approach. Instead of shaming them on social media for their viewpoint, work to find common ground on which to build. The fear of being shamed has all but killed dialogue and debate in our society, and has us retreating into like-minded groups and closing off the outside. It is an intellectual territorialism unlike anything humankind has ever seen. Fixing this is the New American Dream.
- Engage problems: Find a problem, square your shoulders to it and attack it head on in a way that’s unique. Law and Science do not necessarily solve everything. Math, arts, language, and literature can be new solutions. Solving the problems of famine, drought, and poverty is the New American Dream.
- Redefine how we communicate: Make all forms and mediums of communication acceptable. Restore societies faith in the news and accuracy of information. Our generation has royally screwed this up. We discovered the toy but don’t know what to do with it. You were born with it and understand it better than we do on a more profound and meaningful level. Make the discovery of truth foundational again. Media literacy is the New American Dream.
- Replace the civility in politics: Character assassination has become the primary policy strategy. It’s ok to disagree with their politics. It’s ok to hate their position, but don’t hate the person. If your dislike goes beyond their position on issues and becomes a hatred of them as a human, you’re part of the problem, not the solution. Fighting policies not people is the New American Dream.
- Re-prioritize selfless service: Many of you picked a college that is the best fit for you. Let that be your last self-serving decision. When you decide your life’s work, ask where you are the most needed. Selfless service means you will contribute to the greater good and not be an unconscious consumer of the world’s resources. If everyone of us commits to lifting up one person less fortunate than ourselves, the world will completely transform overnight. Dedicating your selfess today for some else’s better tomorrow is the New American Dream.