My diploma hangs next to my writing desk. It says:
Mississippi State University hereby confers upon RAYMOND CASTLE PATRICK III the degree of
Bachelor of Science, James Worth Bagley College of Engineering
together with all the honors, privileges and obligations thereto appertaining.
This sounds weird in the current age. Obligations? You mean my degree isn’t just something that entitles me to apply for certain jobs? There are things I’m required to do since I have a degree?
In short: yes.
If you give it a few moments’ thought, you’ll see why it makes sense that my degree should come with obligations. I graduated from Mississippi State University, a public land-grant and space-grant research university which is owned and (largely) funded by the government of the state of Mississippi. No organization, not even the government, spends money for no reason. When Mississippi uses its tax revenue to give its citizens college educations, this is an investment which is calculated to bring the state some benefit. For instance: MBAs will enable Mississippi’s businesses to run more smoothly; foresters will help to conserve its natural environment; engineers will design, build, and repair its vital infrastructure. Even those who leave the state after graduation will still be serving a useful role in the country at large.
In other words, you don’t get a degree for nothing. College is not there for you to have an “experience” or because it’s the “next chapter in your life” or any such inanity. It is there to provide the kind of specialized training that will ensure you are competent enough to enter a profession and contribute to your society. (At least, that’s what most departments at the university are for. There are also those departments created in the last couple decades for political reasons and that are devoted entirely to the “study” and inflammation of various social grievances, both real and imaginary.)
There has certainly been a wave of irreverence regarding the individual’s role in society at large. I would date this wave as starting around 1970, but gaining much more momentum after the Watergate scandal in 1972-74. (Paradoxically, only a society with robust notions of propriety could have had such a strong reaction to Watergate - but I digress.) Americans’ confidence in the intentions and good-faith of our government and thus our broader society has really only declined since then.
I’m no statist, but I think in our haste to correct such a state of affairs, we have over-corrected and fallen into the ditch on the other side of the road: namely that we are now afraid to believe anything sincerely, but must protect ourselves with several layers of irony, lest people think we are simple-minded for believing in silly notions such as God, Country, Liberty, etc.
There is now a tendency for everyone to ask “What’s in it for me?” when faced with the prospect of acting against our short-term interests in favor of our neighbor’s. This is a short-sighted position. The one who seriously asks this question is blind to the fact that his or her life would be drastically worse if everyone thought that way.
I close with a quote from our 35th President, knowing full well that even uttering this quote today is likely to get you mocked as someone not sufficiently jaded or ironic:
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
“My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”